mHealth aficionados invested in wellness, but prefer OTC to prescriptions: paper

Drugmakers should dig in to find out whether there's an appropriate audience for a given treatment who are interested in using self-monitoring, and then avoid creating me-too apps.

Drugmakers have been eyeing the growing population of web-connected, health-conscious consumers, but in its research in the field, Kantar Health found that at-risk populations who use mHealth gadgets tend to self-medicate with over-the-counter treatments.

“You have a whole group of people who are increasingly empowered and who are increasingly monitoring and treating themselves," said Jeremy Brody, Kantar Health executive VP, corporate development.

"So I think pharma has to ask themselves when it comes to this segment of the population participating in this type of health management: 'What do I do with this group of people? How do I reach out to them, how do I interact with them, how do I still maintain a relationship with them?' ”

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Plus, it’s important to remember that the self-monitoring audience is smaller than media hype might suggest, Brody said. That means it’s especially important to recognize the nuances among different types of users. For instance, people who use fitness trackers versus people who use mHealth applications to monitor chronic conditions.

The paper, built on data (PDF) from Kantar’s National Health and Wellness Survey, found that 37% of the survery respondents tap mHealth applications for general health and wellness. While the No. 1 reason was for general wellness, 46% of that group said they were actively trying to lower the risk of developing certain conditions.

However, when it comes to health tracking among people with chronic conditions, the percentages drop. Kantar found the use of activity trackers among those patients in the single digit percentages.For example, 9% of people with asthma, 7.5% with high cholesterol, 6% for those with hypertension and just 5% of patients with COPD, emphysema or chronic bronchitis, monitor any of their activities digitally.

Brody had some advice for pharma companies looking to reach mHealth users. First, he said, although they are a small segment of the population, they are important and should be segmented carefully.

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Drugmakers should dig in to find out whether there's an appropriate audience for a given treatment who are interested in using self-monitoring. If they find a need for an mHealth intervention, pharma needs to avoid simply creating me-too applications.

“I think a lot of folks in pharma marketing now are being given a directive from above to increase the use of digital within their marketing programs and specifically in mHealth and wearable devices, which is a very hot and popular topic right now,” Brody said. “But doing it just for the sake of doing it will not have the impact that pharma’s looking to have. Designing programs around patients who are interested in monitoring their conditions and figuring out their unmet needs will have that impact.”