Are mobile apps an opportunity for pharma? Not likely.

Rich Meyer

World of DTC marketing

Rich Meyer explains why he thinks that adoption of health apps isn’t high on people’s download priority list and why, therefore, they don’t present an opportunity for pharma right now.

There has been a lot of talk about mobile health and mobile apps, but the reality is that mobile health apps for smartphones are way at the bottom of the list of apps that consumers download. Why is this happening and is there a future for mobile apps and pharma? Insights from research I recently led indicate that there are some people who would use mobile health apps, but most consumers don’t want or need them.

Marketing data from Nielsen and others clearly show that health apps are not even on the radar of downloaded applications for smartphones. My client wanted to better understand “why” this was happening and so we set off to talk to some consumers in four cities within the US. Our focus groups consisted of both young and old, but the summary of insights told a story that helped clarify why consumers don’t want to download mobile health apps.

Among the key finding from our research was that consumers don’t have the time to learn new apps and, for some health conditions, don’t want to be reminded that they have health issues. Women are more proactive when it comes to researching health information and they see their smartphones as a necessary tool to help them manage their lives. However, right now there are just too many health apps and not enough that encompass their needs. “It’s to the point that people think I’m having a personal relationship with my iPhone I don’t need more applications that don’t add a lot of value especially when I can just go to a website to get the information I need” said one person.



“…there are some people who would use mobile health apps but most consumers don’t want or need them.”


Another woman, who is diabetic, talked about an app that let her review menu choices at popular restaurants but she said “it was always out of date, so what good is it?”

How about general health apps? Many said they would use apps that track how many calories they burn while walking, running or biking, but many said they simply don’t have the time to learn another mobile app and input data all the time. The one group who did seem to see value in mobile apps for health were caregivers of type 1 diabetics. They want to know that family members under their care are checking and taking their medication as needed. It’s a big worry for them and they want more tools to help them alleviate the stress of caring for loved ones.

Is there an opportunity for pharma?

That was the key question for the research and the answer is not right now. Pharma and biotech companies are not organized to support the development of health applications and ongoing updates as new operating systems are updated. It requires an ongoing investment and long term relationship with an application technology company that can design apps around how consumers want and need them.

In short it’s going to require time, money and additional resources at a time when pharma is cutting budgets. One can only imagine the weeks and months of meeting needed to get approval to develop an app, not to mention how the app can produce ROI for the brand. It seems that a lot of agencies see app development as a way to generate new business (my client was being pushed by their digital marketing agency to develop a health app), but given consumers reluctance to download and use health apps dollars can and should be spent elsewhere.


“…consumers don’t have the time to learn new apps and, for some health conditions, don’t want to be reminded that they have health issues.”


Even with the findings from this research, the time is coming when medical devices and health applications are going to tightly integrate home health. Patients could, for example, come home and use a device which could measure their blood pressure, blood work, weight and send it all to a health application for them to track while also sending the results to their doctor. However, that time is not yet here and pharma companies have a long way to go to earn patients’ trust and belief that they have patients’ best interests at heart.


About the author:

Richard Meyer is a passionate DTC marketer who has worked within the industry for 10 years. He has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology and has worked for Eli Lilly on the Cialis launch team as well as on Prozac, Prozac Weekly and Sarafem teams. During his career, he has worked with some very talented people and learned a great deal from them but has always believed that if you do what is best for the patient it will lead to good business. For enquiries he may be reached on

Do mobile health app present an opportunity for pharma?