Why don't patients love pharma apps? Because most are just mediocre, advocacy network says

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Pharma companies need to up their app game to attract patients who either aren't aware of them or aren't getting enough value. (Pinkypills/Getty Images)

Pharma companies are dropping the ball when it comes to digital apps. Minimal marketing efforts and mediocre apps just aren’t enough to attract patients, WeGo Health executives said recently.

After asking patient advocates in its network about what pharma apps they use and receiving only a handful of mostly unenthusiastic responses, Senior Director of Marketing Richelle Horn and Chief Client Officer Kristen Hartman offered their thoughts on the lackluster interest.

Two of the biggest app shortfalls are budget and value. Pharma companies spend most of their marketing dollars trying to acquire new patients, leaving anemic budgets left over for support and assistance programs, Horn said. Even when companies have debuted apps, the added value tends to be limited at best.

Pharma companies simply have "missed the mark" in developing useful, durable tools for patients, Hartman said. "Focusing just on specific adherence tasks, like medication reminders, isn’t providing enough value for patients over a long period of time," she said.

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Of the half dozen patients who responded to WeGo’s query, only one uses a pharma app—GSK’s Us in Lupus impact tracker. The patient said the “charting has helped me and my team of doctors determine how to proceed with treatment.”

Among the rest who don’t use pharma apps, one hasn't found any useful for their condition, while another uses FitBit to track sleep, heart rate and exercise as a way to help manage their rheumatoid arthritis, rather than using a pharma app for the same purpose.

And where pharma is failing, others might seize the opportunity. For instance, the FitBit patient recently started using a new mindfulness feature that's now offered by that platform.

Part of the problem, Horn said, is the regulatory environment and the time it takes to get a patient app approved and to market. Another problem is patients using multiple medications from different pharma companies—they’re not likely to download four different apps to track each one.

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That’s where partnering might be a better option, she said. Novo Nordisk and its weight-loss med Saxenda teamed up with with the diet-and-lifestyle app Noom, and Novartis’ Mayzent brand hooked up with the MediSafe medication tracker. Pfizer created the HemMobile with device maker Striiv to help hemophilia patients and caregivers to track bleeds and infusions as well as daily activity.

That doesn’t mean pharmas should give up on creating their own apps, though. The WeGo execs advised taking a step back to consider all of the patient’s needs, not just the one or two actions related to their prescriptions.

“Digital health technology and apps need to engage patients by ensuring their functionality and user experience is in line with patient expectations and needs," Hartman said. "There is also the social component, and being able to connect with other people with similar experiences, that can motivate positive behavior and help patients feel less alone."