Too Many Healthcare Apps

As we all know, if we want something, there’s probably an app for that. From head to toe, from bank to restaurant to club, in most places in the world, there’s probably an app to meet your needs.

Apple is rightly lauded for its contribution in this area. While it didn’t invent the smart phone as such — early devices mashing together PDAs and connected computing preceded the march of i-Everything by some time — but obviously, it popularized this technology and made it usable to virtually everyone, and for that it deserves the kudos it has gotten.

But as we work to build mobile healthcare models, I’d argue, the notion of there being an app for each need is falling flat. Healthcare organizations are creating, and clinicians prescribing, targeted apps for every healthcare niche, but consumers aren’t showing a lot of interest in them.

Healthcare consumers have shown interest in a subsection of health app categories. According to a study completed last year, almost two-thirds of Americans would use a mobile app to manage health issues. The study, the Makovsky/Kelton “Pulse of Online Health” survey, found that their top interests included tracking diet/nutrition (47%), medication reminders (46%), tracking symptoms (45%) and tracking physical activity (44%).

But other research suggests that consumers aren’t that enthused about other categories of healthcare apps. For example, a recent study by HealthMine concluded that while 59% of the 500 respondents it surveyed had chronic conditions, only 7% used digital disease management tools.

I’ve made the following argument before, but I think it’s worth making again. From what I’ve observed, in talking to both providers and patients, the notion of developing a multitude of apps covering specialized needs is a failed strategy, reflecting the interests of the healthcare industry far more than patients. And as a result, patients are staying away in droves.

From what I’ve observed, it appears that healthcare organizations are developing specialized apps because a) that strategy mirrors the way they are organized internally or b) they’re trying to achieve specific outcomes (such as a given average blood sugar level among diabetics). So they build apps that reflect how they collect and manage data points within their business.

The problem is, consumers don’t care what a facility or clinician’s goals are, unless those goals overlap with their own. They certainly don’t want to open a new app every time they take on a new health concern. And that sucks the benefit right out of app-creation efforts by healthcare providers. After all, aren’t people with multiple conditions the expensive patients we’d most like to target?

What’s more, apps designed to capture data aren’t terribly motivating. Clinicians may live or die on the numbers, but unless those numbers come with a realistic path to action, they will soon be ignored, and the app discarded. Consider the humble bathroom scale. For most people, that one data point isn’t particularly helpful, as it says nothing about where to go from there. So people generally give up when they’re neither motivated nor taught by the apps they download.

To be successful with mobile healthcare, providers and clinicians will need to back the development of apps which guide and sustain users, rather than turn them into data entry clerks.  It’s not clear what should replace the current generation, but we need to turn to a more patient-centric model. Otherwise, all our efforts will be wasted.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

4 Comments

  • Multipurpose medical apps would be nice, but with tens of thousands of health & fitness apps for iPhone alone (and that was back in 2012), consumers would still need a better way of finding and grading them. Specialized search tools include: Appboy, AppPicker, Appolicious, Appsfire, Discovr, Frenzapp, Happtique, and Zwapp. Happtique uses a vetting process to ensure quality, asking healthcare specialists to rate apps that apply to their specialty. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/how-to-find-mobile-apps-for-home-health-care/)

    While specialized search apps help, they only partially address the “too many apps” issue. You can find other articles about smartphones in healthcare at http://www.mhealthtalk.com/?s=smartphone+apps

  • Finding them might help, but the problem is not too many mhealth apps, it too many BAD mhealth apps.

    Most people download them with the hopes of doing something or solving a particular medical need and the apps that are out there just don’t help. They don’t DO anything. Too many are just informational webpages that are disguised as an app.

    Mheath needs to both usable and useful in order to be successful.

  • That’s why I like Happtique, an app search tool that uses a vetting process to ensure quality, asking healthcare specialists to rate apps that apply to their specialty. Each healthcare app, or hApp, is assigned to at least one major audience (e.g., physician, nurse, pharmacist, etc.) and at least one broad topic (e.g., heart/cardiovascular). Each hApp is also “tagged” for more precise audiences (e.g., specific medical, nursing, dental specialties, etc.) and topics (specific cancers, diabetes, asthma, etc.) so you can stop searching for healthcare apps and start finding them.

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