Mobile health apps: when will they change the interaction between pharma and patients?

Dirk Poschenrieder

Razorfish Healthware

In our digital and social media focus month, Dirk Poschenrieder discusses the mobile health market and how mhealth apps have the opportunity to change the interaction between pharma and patients.

I often hear that mobile health will explode within the next few years – the number of users to download a mhealth application will go from 124 million users in 2011 to more than 250 million users in 2013. Every day brings a new success story! I also hear that mobile applications can change the interaction between the companies and the patients? But before we talk about what could be, we should have a general look at the market today.

Here’s what’s happening: only 5% of all downloaded free apps are in use. And only 20% of the users return to an app the day after they have downloaded it. This means that there are a lot of applications on one hand, but on the other hand there is still the question: is the quality of these applications really good? The most successful and helpful health applications are those that have combined a medical tracking with a personal coaching. My personal view on this is that there is a lot of space to improve by creating a mobile health app.


“…ask yourself only one simple question: why should patients download this specific mobile application?”


But before you start working on a health application, ask yourself only one simple question: why should patients download this specific mobile application? Sometimes it can also help to ask yourself: “when will I download something? What is in for me? What are my personal benefits?” In my opinion, there are only two reasons why patients download a mobile health app:

1. They want to manage their treatment and become / stay healthy

2. They want to gather information around a specific treatment / indication

With this in mind, pharma marketers can start working on the development of an application which delivers one, or even both, of the mentioned reasons above. An application that can be integrated in the daily life of patients, families, relatives!

For me, it’s indispensable to work closely with patients, patient organisations and physicians to get closer to the special needs and requirements of the target group: listen to your audience! But what does this mean when creating a mobile health application?

• First: It takes time!

• Second: It takes more time!

But in the end you will be fully satisfied with the results. You’ll have a user-friendly application – easy to use – easy to understand – easy to handle. And last, but not least, an application that will be used!

And after the application has seen the light of day (which means that your application is ready for the market), then comes the (most important) time – promoting the app. How will the patient find the app within the countless applications for example in the AppStore or in the AndroidStore or anywhere else? How will he find the right mobile health application for his special needs? It’s like the famous experiment by Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar, published in the year 2000: The Paradox of Choice! To cut a long story short: more choices lead to lower overall sales. Or in our case: less downloads!


“To cut a long story short: more choices lead to lower overall sales.”


In Apple’s AppStore there are more than 500,000 applications. A total of 4% are health apps and 4% are medicine apps. So there are 40,000 mhealth apps worldwide waiting to be discovered by patients. So what needs to be done? Make sure that you have a sufficiently large budget for the promotion. Promote the application via search, your own corporate website, your sales force, physicians (referral marketing) and patient advocacy groups (in their role as a neutral “Competence Center”). Don’t expect that your customer will find the app without doing any advertising! And ensure that you have enough content to update the application from time to time. Nothing is duller and less attractive than an old application!

After the marketers have done this homework, I’m absolutely sure that mobile health apps will change the interaction between pharma and patients.


About the author:

Dirk Poschenrieder is Director Strategy for Razorfish Healthware, a global leader in digital and healthcare communications. The company leverages a unique mix of insight, technology, creativity and industry savvy to drive the change in healthcare by providing vertical solutions to enhance marketing, medical and sales operations. Razorfish Healthware is a proud member of Publicis Healthcare Communications Group (PHCG), the largest and most innovative health oriented agency network in the world. PHCG is a unit of the Paris-based Publicis Groupe, the world’s third largest communications group, second largest media counsel and buying group, and a global leader in digital and healthcare communications.

Previously, Dirk worked in the Digital Marketing department at Janssen, the pharmaceutical company of Johnson &amp, Johnson. He is also experienced in the consulting of pharmaceutical companies due to his former job as a (Marketing) Consultant for Deutsche Post.

Global contact details:




Twitter: @poschi2311

How can pharma marketers create a stand-out mhealth app?