Succeeding in the mHealth App Creation Frenzy — Make It Simple and Valuable

Since we’re on the topic of making apps easier to use, I thought I’d comment on another article I read at Fierce Mobile Care.

Mobile health apps are being created left and right. Some are successful, others are not. The question many developers should be asking themselves is how to separate their app from one of the more than 10,000 medical and healthcare apps currently available? Show value and make it simple, according to this article.

The author of the article makes a good point:

The problem is that too many of the apps are duplicative. After all, how many BMI calculators does a person need? Far fewer are focused on managing chronic conditions, though apps to help manage diabetes tend to be among the most popular.

I imagine a BMI calculator is far more simple to make than an app that is designed to help treat chronic illnesses. But like this person said . . . how many BMI calculators do you actually need? To be honest, I don’t even need one — I have a browser that can give me that information just as quickly, plus it doesn’t take up room on my phone.

The article referenced another articles called “What’s the Matter With Mobile Health Apps Today?” There were a lot of interesting points made, and I think that this graph really displays her opinion well:

I download lots of mHealth apps to my phone, and to be honest, most of them end up getting deleted after I realize I never use them. Which is sad, I know, but life gets busy and I don’t find them absolutely essential to my life, and many of them are just time consuming to understand. Rhona Finkel, author of the article explains the phenomenon (and it makes me feel better to know that only 20 percent of users use an app again the day after it’s downloaded; 5 percent after a month, and almost 0 at 3 months):

Fundamentally, it seems, it’s a little like starting a new exercise program.  Everyone starts off enthusiastic, buys a new running outfit, fits themselves with a new pair of Nikes and sets off running every day. By week two it’s down to a light job twice a week. A month into it people are back in their sweats, sitting around the TV with a bowl of potato chips.

It’s like Rhona was watching my life.

But why is it that apps aren’t “sticking?” Are the only ones that really get used consistently ones that are “prescribed” to patients — and even then, those apps probably go largely unused. Here’s Rhona’s guess:

I’ll tell you what’s wrong in a nutshell. It’s boring and time-consuming to enter the data required by so many apps to get the most bang for your buck. I mean to enter my calories consumed, my medicines taken, my notes in my gratitude journal. But in the end I’m really more of a potato-chip-on-the-couch type of app consumer than one enthusiastically willing to exercise my fingers and thumbs.

The bottom line is, an app needs to be interesting. Interesting enough that person is excited to open it, rather than dread it. We live in a world where people get bored easily. Should apps incorporate games, music, and lots of flashy things? I don’t think so. That’s not what health is all about. H&HN Daily’s writer Ian Morrison suggests “that complexity and confusion are also a major part of consumer engagement issues . . . [and] advises that hospitals keep it simple with their products and services because patients are reluctant to engage in their health with confusing option.”

mHealth apps are supposed to make our lives easier, and really, I think they would if we spent as much time using them as we do playing Angry Birds. Have any of you found apps that meet the goals of showing value and being simple?

About the author

Katie Clark

Katie Clark

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

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