Three men, 140 miles and a bunch of health apps

Carl Engelmarc

Refreshed Wellbeing

Mobile is the new buzzword in pharma and everyone is looking into the fast growing world of health apps. Here, three members of Refreshed Wellbeing go on a charity cycle ride and put several apps through their paces to see what they can learn for pharma.

Back in September, a few of the folks at Refreshed Wellbeing slapped on the muscle rub and strapped on their helmets for a cycle ride from our offices in Reigate to the Eiffel Tower, all in aid of raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Society. That’s 140 miles of cycling in two days!

With the increased prevalence of apps in pharma, three of our people (George, Carl and James) decided to road test some apps using an iPhone 4 along the way to gain some ‘on the ground’ insight. The truth is that while 30 per cent of healthcare professionals use a smartphone to run apps, a third of these are only used once. And, like everyone else, doctors are still using only five per cent of their apps a month after download.

Here is what we discovered during our trip.

Heart / pulse rate apps

1. Budget: Azumio Instant Heart Rate Monitor – £0.69

Claims to be the most accurate heart rate monitor app for iPhone. Place the tip of your index finger on the iPhone’s camera and in a couple of seconds your Heart Rate will be shown.

However, we couldn’t get the app to take a reading after numerous attempts – apparently we were clinically dead. Back at the office it did work whilst resting, taking about five seconds to get a reading. It didn’t work just after cycling, probably because we were hot and shaky, and you need to keep quite still to take a reading. But what’s the point of a heart rate monitor that only works for a resting heart rate?


“…what’s the point of a heart rate monitor that only works for a resting heart rate?”


2. Mid-range: Cardiograph Personal Heart Rate Meter – £1.49

Place the tip of your index finger on the iPhone’s camera and in a few seconds your heart rate will be shown. Each measurement is saved and you can have multiple profiles, each with its own history, so you can track personal results under various conditions.

It’s quick, taking about five seconds for a reading – you do need to keep still but it worked on the road. It has a cool history feature that compares your heart rate over a period of time and information is clearly displayed but the design is really dull – not much thought put into it, or into ongoing user engagement.

3. Premium: Cardiio Touchless Camera Pulse Sensor – £2.99

Look straight into the front camera of your iPhone to measure your heart rate and create a personal dashboard of data over time, show your fitness level or even estimate life expectancy.

Although it takes a bit longer to get a reading (10 seconds), this is the most useful of the three apps because you don’t need to keep still for it to work. The graphics are simple but well thought out, and it’s easy to use. While you’re waiting for readings, the app provides interesting messages and facts to keep you engaged – some of these are health-related, others are just random facts that put a smile on your face. An option to share the app directly with friends and compare everyone’s data is useful for viral penetration.

Diabetes apps

1. Budget: Glucose Buddy – free

A data storage utility for people with diabetes. Users can manually enter glucose numbers, carbohydrate consumption, insulin dosages, and activities in order to manage their disease.

Certainly a handy app for diabetics to keep track of things – especially the push notifications and reminders. Graphs and syncing to the app’s website are particularly useful as you can view your data and also print out your results prior to diabetologist appointments. The design and interface are really well thought out, though it would be a bonus if users could create two logs if they’re using two different insulin medications.


“It’s clear that the developers really understand the needs of diabetics.”


2. Mid-range: Diabetes Diary – £1.99

Developed by a diabetic, this app allows diabetics to record glucose readings, insulin doses and carbohydrate intake, enabling users to view trends over time. Activity is available to view in a month-by-month history and is presented with an overview of mean glucose reading and daily insulin dose. The same information is also presented in a graph view with the facility to take a capture for future reference.

It’s clear that the developers really understand the needs of diabetics. The analysis / graph tool and interface are extremely easy to use – we could almost do it in our sleep. The slick design makes it simple to see what’s going on with your insulin levels and it’s very consistent once installed. On the downside, this app crashed a few times when we tried to install it, but apparently the bugs are being ironed out for the iPhone 5.

3. Premium: DiabetesPlus – £2.99

Also developed by diabetics, DiabetesPlus lets you administer your readings on your iPhone, create PDFs, send data directly to your doctor and print it.

This was the only app tested that caters for Type 1 diabetics on different insulin meds. Usability was great in terms of logging in readings and viewing results. It feels very scientific and medical. For some users this might be advantageous as it provides gravitas / authority, but we felt it was just too ‘worthy’ in tone for an app. The design was also inconsistent across pages / sections, and we couldn’t print the data (though this might be a problem with the wifi home network, not the app).

The lessons

In reviewing these six apps we uncovered a number of key lessons for pharma when it comes to exploiting mobile health opportunities:

• Make sure your app works, and that it works for a number of user scenarios.

• To encourage repeat use of an app, make sure it isn’t just a one-trick pony.

• Why not consider building in fun yet informative branded messages related to products and disease awareness?

• Don’t skimp on functionality, user interface and design even if your app is free.

• Make sure you really understand your users’ needs before you start developing / designing your app, and no matter how good your app might be, if users need multiple attempts to install it, you’re probably dead in the water.

• Make sure your tone of voice is the right balance between authority / gravitas and being human to encourage repeat use.

• Make sure you’ve tested for battery drain before launching your app. If it does eat power, set user expectations by making it clear that it does so.

• If you’re charging a premium price, make sure you offer a premium service.


“Why not consider building in fun yet informative branded messages related to products and disease awareness?”


With smartphone connection speeds getting faster and faster, especially with the recent launch of 4G in the UK, apps can be a great way to be relevant and stay top of mind with your various audiences. But as we learned on our ride, just make sure it’s fit for purpose and engaging to maintain interest.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in knowing more about our cycle ride, check out our microsite where we’ve uploaded some images and videos. And if you’d like to donate, our Just Giving page is still open.




About the author:

With over 20 years marketing experience, Carl co-founded Refreshed Wellbeing and specialises in digital strategy and integrated communications in both Rx, consumer health and FMCG.

Refreshed Wellbeing uniquely combines digital consumer marketing experience, covering virtually all market sectors and communications disciplines, with considerable professional healthcare expertise. Insights are driven by an unparalleled understanding of how customers and audiences want to interact with brands in the digital world. Clients include Boehringer Ingelheim, Mentholatum, Roche, Johnson &amp, Johnson and Pfizer. The agency has doubled its staff and turnover since its launch in 2009.

Refreshed Wellbeing is part of Emerge, a £40m media, marketing and communications group operating in traditional, digital and online disciplines across a range of markets.

Find out more about Refreshed Wellbeing at:

What are the key features of a good health app?