Computer and smart phone applications are pervasive across the world and cover almost every conceivable facet of a peoples lifestyle choices. As of March 2017, the two largest app stores had a collective library of apps totalling 5 billion.i However, as demonstrated by our report, ‘Pharma and the connected patient: How digital technology is enabling patient centricity’, the uptake of applications produced by Life Science companies remains low. This week’s blog is by David Rosner, a principle in the firm’s US practice, and it was recently featured on the US Centre for Health Solutions site.ii David references our report and explores some of the reasons for the low uptake of applications by Life Sciences companies.

Don’t be surprised. Instead, take a brutally honest look at what it’s offering.
With the UK Centre for Health solutions having recently completed a significant piece of research,iii we can now say officially what you surely already know: there’s a good chance patients have no interest in your app, whether it’s the one you launched just last year or even the one you’re planning for next year. Although many pharma companies are churning out new apps at a healthy clip, adoption and usage rates for many such apps are stagnant and show no signs of increasing any time soon.

In some industries, this would lead to a simple conclusion: “Let’s just stop investing in consumer-facing apps.” But for leaders at pharmaceutical companies, this can be a difficult conclusion to reach, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that patient-centricity is a very real and important strategic goal. Set aside the issue of whether or not to invest in an app for a moment. Regardless of that decision, becoming patient-centric remains a strategic pillar for many in the industry. Now, consider the limited options many pharmaceutical companies have for making direct connections with their customers. In that light, even the glimmer of potential to connect with customers through a new avenue – in this case, mobile apps – may make the pursuit of a successful app worth the effort.

Apps in the world of pharmaceuticals can succeed. But it can take a razor-sharp approach, a little creativity, and perhaps more than anything, brutal self-directed honesty, in order to make the investment in an app worth it. Why honesty? Because many of the companies that launch successful apps in this space start with a crystal-clear understanding of their place in their customers’ worlds, which often means recognizing that their place can, in fact, be very small – and working out from there.

Here are some critical self-assessment questions that any pharmaceutical company should answer before starting down the path of an app, or when trying to create new relevance for one that’s already been launched.

Are we really able to promise anything of utility or value?
We know from customer experience research that while companies tend to overestimate the value of their products – in this case, an app – to customers, the customers themselves tend to undervalue them. For the companies offering the product, it can take a lot of work to overcome this gap in perceptions. For pharmaceutical companies, this can be made even more difficult by the fact that the manufacturer is only one of several key players in patient treatment. Those that are able to bridge the gap are able to do so usually because they address an unmet patient need – or help caregivers meet those needs. Which needs, exactly? Having a positive impact on patient outcomes is an obvious target, but there are others. For example, simply making a patient’s life easier during the complex onboarding process (reimbursement, education, etc.) for a specialty product could be of great value, even if it doesn’t have a direct link to outcomes.

What’s the lifespan of this app?
Many mobile apps tend to be short-lived or disposable – use once, then delete. For pharmaceutical companies, it can help to consider the app in the context of the overall patient journey before beginning development. Maybe, for example, the patient is expected to use the app only a few times, given the length of treatment. In that case, requiring a username and password could be a huge barrier to adoption. In some cases, based on the arc and timing of treatment, an app may not even be the right answer – email, SMS text messaging, or other interventions may provide the equivalent level of value without the need for registration.

Do we have the brand permission among our customers to make this a success? If not, who does – and can we partner with them?
We recently conducted research showing that among those offering health apps, those from pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers were trusted least by consumers. Meanwhile, those developed by patient groups and doctors enjoyed the highest level of trust. For pharma leaders considering bringing a new app to market, this begs the question of whether or not they have the brand permission required to be successful. If the answer is “no,” don’t despair. A number of pharma companies have partnered with others in the patient care ecosystem who do have brand permission to deliver successful apps. Roche’s “mySugr” and Pfizer’s “Quitter’s Circle” are both examples of successful apps cosponsored by patient groups that are well known within their individual therapeutic areas.

Does an app sound like more trouble than it’s worth after reading this? It may be. But it doesn’t have to be, either – not when you consider the potential results in terms of patient engagement and becoming more patient-centric. The key is to avoid starting down the path toward an app simply because there is mounting pressure to do so. On the other hand, if the business case is clear, develop a firm understanding of the value your app can really offer, as well as the value customers and patients are actually seeking, and from whom they’re seeking it. Once you connect the dots on those critical elements, your chances of success may take a quantum leap forward.

David rosner

David Rosner - Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

David Rosner leads the Digital Life Sciences practice in the US. David works with his clients to improve outcomes through the use of digital technologies and approaches driven by analytics and insights. He works with a range of companies within the Life Sciences industry to improve outcomes, engage with patients in valuable ways, and support providers and payers so they can focus on helping patients. David is also the Customer Analytics leader within the Deloitte Analytics.

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