How to make pharma Rx support apps better? Get REAL.

Most Pharma Patient Apps:  Maybe not so good

I’m certainly not the first to describe the generally woeful nature of most patient apps developed for prescription medicines by manufacturers.  Pharmaceutical companies have a lot of apps in the market, and have been making apps for a long time, but their apps aren’t seeing downloads and usage on par with the apps from other industries.”

So what are the specifics?

Approximately two-thirds of apps published by the pharmaceutical industry are only in iOS/Apple device format.  In a world where over 50 percent of the population is using Android and Kindle Fire based devices?  Why?  Colleagues report that many iOS app pilots never quite make it to being full iOS/Google Play/Amazon app store commitments, often due to a lack of meaningful app performance metrics, and changes in marketing management.

Since most existing pharma patient support apps are rarely used (and often quickly deleted), what do prescribers and patients really want?

Privacy. Few Rx patient support apps are privacy protected, are HIPPA-compliant, or even have privacy policies.  When surveyed in late 2012, a SERMO recruited multi-specialty physician panel (results depicted below) reported that patient privacy protection was among the most important patient app benefits desired.

Adherence. Affordability. Education. Feedback. A simple review of pharma app offerings finds that very few apps have most of the attributes that patients, nurses, and their physicians want.   Some patient apps are not for patient support at all, but are reconstituted DTC acquisition mobile websites that offer little if any app-specific functionality or patient support services (Xarelto Patient Center as one example). Some apps remind for dosing or patch rotation (PatchMate, Exelon).  Some apps support planning and tracking of injection sites (Copaxone iTracker).  Some include access to copay savings cards and coupons. Many support some type of branded or unbranded education.   But very few support feedback of patient-reported outcomes. On this very timely topic, recent announcements by Biogen Idec and Novartis preview an emerging reimbursement strategy, with new “table stakes” that include real-world tracking, monitoring, and demonstration of Rx safe-use and outcomes-attainment. 

Biogen Idec recently announced the use and potential expansion of FitBit strategies to track physical activity rates for MS patients taking their MS brands.   Biogen Idec CEO George Scangos says he’s confident his company will be able to provide useful information to doctors, who can then “hopefully intervene earlier, and that should save the payers money and should result in better outcomes for patients.”

Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez went a step further during a speech in November 2014.   As reported by Reuters, “Jimenez is convinced remote monitoring technology will play a central role in this respect, both to help healthcare systems check if patients are improving and also to protect companies that need to ensure they are not penalized for a drug failing if a patient does not take his or her medicine.”  Said Jimenez, "It doesn't mean we will own the technologies, but it does mean the technologies will play an important role in the management of disease." 

For too many in the pharma industry, unfortunately “patient-engagement” still means direct marketing, patient acquisition and website clicks. As more payers become hungry for “real-world” outcomes-attainment tracking of specific pharmaceutical brands, industry Rx Patient Apps must more measurably support medication safe use and health outcomes attainment.  With such apps now having a seat at the reimbursement table, helping to re-define what “preferred” formulary medications really means.


Rob Dhoble

President, Adherent Health LLC