Patient Health Apps - Help or Hype?

Patient Health Apps - Help or Hype?

Posted by Elizabeth Gargill on Wed, Nov 13, 2019


BBK-HU-1Last month, in partnership with Health Union, we surveyed over 200 patients on health app use. The findings not only dispel some common myths about app use, but they provide valuable insight that members of the clinical research community can leverage to enhance the design, development, and adoption of clinical trial engagement apps.

We recently sat down with Health Union’s COO and Clinical Business Lead, Lauren Lawhon, for a Q&A session to get her take on the survey results.

The survey findings revealed that 44% of patients are not currently using health management apps. Of these, 62% indicate they have never thought of using an app to help manage their health. How do you think we can bring greater awareness to the benefits of using health management apps?

We maintain the philosophy at Health Union that technology can help enable health behaviors, but it doesn’t create them. We have witnessed and seen this philosophy confirmed through the ways in which people engage with content and with each other via our online health communities – all housed within existing and well-known technological platforms. As a result, we weren’t particularly surprised by these survey findings.

Our experience - and public health research – demonstrates that when people feel informed about their health condition, validated in their experiences and connected to support resources, they are empowered to achieve better outcomes. Unfortunately, most apps focus only on the last piece of that puzzle – connection to support resources – and, as a result, have limited appeal.

For greater adoption, health apps should incorporate and promote features that aim to meet the education and support needs of people with chronic health conditions, along with features that enable behavior tracking and communication with healthcare professionals. The survey results reinforce the idea that content that is up-to-date, relevant and personalized can keep people interested and engaged.

Did any of the survey findings surprise you? If so, which ones?

Yes, one particularly surprising finding was that there didn’t seem to be any age discrepancy in terms of using health apps. I think most people expect that younger individuals are more likely than older individuals to use apps in general; as a result, the assumption becomes that younger patients are more likely to use health apps than older patients. However, this survey showed no significant differences in usage among age groups. As technology becomes more ubiquitous in our daily lives, the barriers to its applications for health are dissolving. The issue of whether someone uses a health app is clearly about its relevance and value to that person’s health experience.

Another finding that really surprised me was that most patients disagreed that apps are a privacy concern. It was especially interesting compared to how researchers and sponsors answered this question. While privacy is clearly a top-of-mind concern for those of us in the healthcare field, it’s not as much of a primary focus for people as we would expect. Of course, that certainly doesn’t mean we should ignore privacy protections! What it means is that privacy protection should be a seamless part of the user experience, and the focus of consumer value proposition should be relevant content and tools that support patients’ efforts to manage their health conditions.

What do you think we can learn from the findings to help enhance the patient experience?

There was a point made during BBK’s webinar presentation about the survey that not everyone uses apps to manage their health, and I think that point is well-taken. Apps, or any technology for that matter, aren’t a universal solution to improve health and healthcare. Instead, an app can be used as a tool – one of many ways to engage patients and promote health management behaviors.

What we can take away from this survey is that content is extremely important in driving regular engagement and interaction with an app. As I mentioned earlier, Health Union’s model for online community development is based on three key pillars – information, validation/support and connection – and high-quality, relevant content is the foundation of meeting those needs. Content that is both educational and personal brings a human element to health that is so important and has the ability to be transformational.

If we explore new ways to use technology, like apps, to enhance the human aspects of healthcare (not only the logistics of care), we can make real progress in improving patient experiences and health outcomes.

What do you see as the major barriers to adoption of health apps and how can we overcome them?

As we mentioned before, 62% of people who have not used a health management app reported that it never occurred to them to use an app for managing their health. This tells me that the major barrier is relevance. People aren’t aware of apps or don’t consider using an app for health because it’s not relevant to their health journey. So the question becomes: how do we make health apps more relevant for more people?

There are a few key ways to do this. Developers need to develop a deeper understanding of patient journeys - either by themselves or by partnering with companies who do this already - to determine where their app technology can add value. Doing so will allow the app to meet people where they are in their health journeys. It will also ensure that developers are “making things people want,” instead of “making people want things.”

Other areas of concern – like cost, complexity, and privacy – are important, yet secondary, to truly understanding and adapting an offering to the needs of the patient.

For more information on the survey results, please download our infographic.

Topics: BBK Worldwide, Patient Engagement, Clinical Trials, Study Voices, Health Union, MythBusters, Health Apps