Mobile health and today’s pharmaceutical industry

Mobile health is an area that continues to grow as technology evolves day by day, and there are many opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry to get involved. Anna Field explores these opportunities in our mobile health themed month.

“What’s the last thing you did on your mobile phone?”

You may not think it, but the mobile phone has been around since 1946 when the first mobile call was made from a car in St Louis, Missouri in the United States. Since then, mobile phone technology has rapidly evolved. The answer to the question above ten years ago would most likely be “I made a call” but today’s responses could range from tweeting to playing Candy Crush. In today’s world, mobile phones are not only becoming increasingly common but are more and more vital to everyday life.


Along with the evolution of the mobile phone, computers have been progressing perhaps even faster. From internet cafes to tablets, we are in a new era of the personal computer. Today’s smart phones allow us to truly take our computers with us and every day are more an extension of ourselves. Because we spend so much time using our phones, there is a major opportunity upon which pharmaceutical companies and market research agencies can capitalize.

There’s an app for that!

In the iPhone app store alone, applications have burst to over 900,000 since 2008, almost 6,000 of which regard Health and Fitness. There really is an app for just about anything, and with the evolution of technology moving so rapidly, sometimes it’s hard to keep up. When it comes to mobile health, both physicians and patients can benefit.

“Because we spend so much time using our phones, there is a major opportunity upon which pharmaceutical companies and market research agencies can capitalize.”

Apps for physicians tend to focus on keeping up-to-date in their field, and these range from broadcasting continuing medical education (CME) podcasts to providing diagnostic advice. Two of the more popular apps geared toward physicians are:

• Doximity and Epocrates –

o Mainly used as a reference for prescription and OTC drugs, this app features a “pill ID” function which identifies pills based on their physical characteristics including shape and etching

• Medical Radio –

o Offering podcasts for both GPs and specialists, this app is provided by ReachMD who provide 15-minute presentations for CME

Patient-centric apps are more tailored to provide support and guidance in terms of lifestyle or compliance. For lifestyle guidance:

• RunKeeper –

o Tracks a user’s run or walk and determines how many calories have been burned by taking into account speed and elevation. This information is then published to the website and synced to social media and/ or other health related apps

• Lose It! –

o Users simply enter in their goal weight and this app creates a plan and sets parameters so that each user only has to input daily food and exercise

In terms of compliance, there are apps available that communicate with a plug-in for your phone, such as a blood pressure cuff or blood glucose monitor, and store and track this information. Other apps such as Rxmind me – which sets a timer to prompt the user to take medication as prescribed – encourage compliance.

What makes mobile health apps so unique and useful is the social component some provide; this also holds true for the growing number of wearable activity-logging devices such as Nike’s Fuelband (which does have a corresponding iPhone app), Jawbone Up, or Fitbit’s One. These apps and devices track behavior which establishes objective measures of health, and by publishing to both app-specific websites and social media promotes accountability and motivation. By “game-ifying” the experience, users can compare their activity to themselves over time and also create friendly competition with friends.

“With the advent and growth of mobile health, patients are becoming more involved in and taking more responsibility for their daily health.”

Opportunity is knocking

With the advent and growth of mobile health, patients are becoming more involved in and taking more responsibility for their daily health. While daily food intake and activity can be input to apps such as RunKeeper and Lose It! there is room for more apps that encourage compliance. Compliance is not only important for patient safety and health, it can also reduce long-term medical bills; considering increasing hospital costs and tightening budgets this is increasingly important.

Apps can be developed by both pharmaceutical and independent companies to support patients in various ways. While compliance can be promoted through apps such as Rxmind Me which indicates when a medication needs to be taken, support can also be found for patients through groups or forums that encourage communication between patients taking the same medication or with the same condition. Through these apps patients, particularly those with rare conditions, could create a network of support by sharing stories about their experiences with the condition generally and medications specifically. Providing this support could set a pharmaceutical company apart from their competition and create loyalty among their physician and patient base.

Pharmaceutical companies can also communicate the benefits of their products to physicians including product information and clinical trial data. Physicians can be kept apprised of new developments such as additional indications and formulations so they are always kept current and can investigate further information to provide to their patients as appropriate. This information can also be communicated to patients at least in the US where direct to patient advertising occurs.

This two-way communication strategy is a giant step forward from the “push-marketing” of old. By offering support to patients and physicians, pharmaceutical companies have the potential to set themselves and their brands apart from the competition. Apps are only growing in global reach and popularity, and there is huge opportunity for pharmaceutical companies, research agencies and app developers alike to take advantage of our obsession with our “quantifiable selves” and truly connect like never before.



About the author:

Anna Field is a Senior Research Executive at Branding Science, where she combines her background in Sociology and passion for health to provide tailored, actionable recommendations in the area of pharmaceutical market research. She is experienced in a range of research methodologies and therapy areas and especially thrives in qualitative research.

Anna looks forward to hearing from you at Why not follow Anna and others on the Branding Science Twitter account – we’d love to hear from you!

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