Apps are Ruining the Patient Experience

To app or not to app, that is the question.

The pace of app development accelerates each year, spinning with unstoppable momentum. These days, everyone from your local gas station to the taco joint on the corner has an app. For years now, specialty pharma companies have also been a part of the app gold rush. 

This would seem to be a positive development, right? After all, the conventional wisdom is that specialty pharma apps make it easier for patients to onboard and stay adherent to new medications. 

But the reality is more complicated. 

The continuous app explosion has been hotly debated for years. On one side, you have anti-app haters, who argue that there are simply too many apps. On the other side are the pro-app champs, noting that complaining about too many apps is the equivalent of whining that there are too many businesses.

As a manufacturer, you once had to create an app to reach patients on their mobile devices. It was expected. Now you need to ask yourself whether this is justified…and whether apps even benefit your patients at all.

When you look at user data, the debate becomes clearer, and weighted towards those who are unhappy with the glut of apps. Here’s what the numbers show: people are getting app fatigue. They’re limiting the number of apps they download and uninstalling many of the apps that they do have.

These trendlines are amplified in the world of specialty pharma, where there’s a storied history of app failure. The reasons why patients are avoiding your app, or trashing it shortly after downloading, are varied, but it all comes down to a lack of perceived value by the patient.

Often you find that these apps are designed with incentives that don’t align with the rest of a pharma’s business goals. Conflict around ownership of the patient experience makes it hard to connect the siloed information across the ecosystem.

And the truth is that most specialty pharma providers simply aren’t equipped to expertly create delightful user experiences through agile development, nor are they positioned to update apps through rapid iterations. Why? Primarily because of a lack of skillset in the pharma workforce, as well as the cumbersome regulatory environment that requires lengthy approval for every change. 

Furthermore, across industries, app store approval processes continue to be a barrier to creativity and innovation.

So what’s replacing the traditional app? A variety of easier options are now trending upward. This includes progressive web apps, which allow users to access the experience on any platform without a network connection, and mobile web apps, which are websites optimized for a good phone experience.

Web apps were originally championed by Apple before the company opened up the app store to outside developers, a full year after the launch of the iPhone. Indeed, Steve Jobs’s original vision for the iPhone was to prohibit any third-party native apps. Apple designed iOS to make the web experience as powerful and friendly as possible.

Over time, the lines between a native app and a web experience have blurred. Browsers now have access to many of a device’s functionality that used to require an app, for example location, camera, and storage. 

Are YOU appy?

When was the last time you downloaded an app? Was it worth it or was it just a nuisance? Have you gone back to this app since the initial download? Have you trashed it to clean up the clutter on your phone? 

If you’re like most consumers, you’ve lost much of your incentive to go to the trouble of downloading more apps. Asking people to jump through the hurdle of downloading presumes another commitment that they very well may not wish to grant.

This is true in any industry, but particularly healthcare. What are the digital behaviors that people consider worthwhile? Which technologies are going to make their lives more enjoyable, and which are perceived as annoyances? 

Sure, posting photos of your friends on Instagram is enjoyable; you’ll go to that trouble. But downloading apps related to your healthcare tasks? That can feel like a chore.

When we’re talking about something like onboarding for new therapies, does a patient really want to bother with downloading your app? Why should they? Is this hurdle warranted?

In the future, patients will expect SMS messages and other kinds of frictionless communication that feels no different than just going to a website. Their journey will be more seamless and require little effort from them.

Create a frictionless experience for patients 

Stop building your specialty pharma onboarding around apps. While mobile use continues to explode, this doesn’t mean that people love jamming their device with more apps whose existence they can’t even remember after using once. Advances in technology are eliminating the value of apps, and frankly – good riddance.

What is your specialty patient journey doing to adjust to this new reality? Are you swimming upstream to get your patients onboarded, hoping that your app is the holy grail that your patients will embrace? 

It’s time to meet your patients where they are. You had the best of intentions; you thought your app would make their lives more streamlined and simple. But it’s actually making everything more complex. 

Of course, apps will always be hugely popular in the social and gaming spheres. But app burnout is real and people are questioning the need for every download request they receive. Unless it’s something they use all the time, unless it’s something they want and love, they’re not going to bother. And they’ll look at you as bothersome if you expect this of them.

In the healthcare ecosystem, everyone wants to own the patient experience. Healthcare providers, pharmacies, pharma, the payers – they all vie for control of this patient journey. Amidst this ownership overlap and separate information silos, their competing apps muddy the waters and besiege the patient they’re trying to help. Specialty patients are already overwhelmed; throwing more apps at them worsens the problem.

So what’s the solution? It starts with reframing the issue. The challenge for patients is less about data and more about connectivity. 

So many pharma apps have failed because they only offered the patient information inside one silo. But patients need help throughout the entirety of their journey, not just at one stop along the road. 

Specialty pharma providers need to open the aperture of their lens on the problems facing patients. Let’s find opportunities to create a connected experience that streamlines the patient journey instead of adding more bends in the road.   

HelpAround is a mobile platform that minimizes specialty patient dropoff by simplifying and connecting the patient journey.

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