4 Tips for a Successful Mobile Health App

At the Louisville Innovation Summit, three healthcare experts discussed how app developers can make their product appealing to investors and clinicians. Here’s what you need to know.

The mobile healthcare app industry is exploding, with more than 195,000 such apps currently on the market, according to Ginna Baik, senior healthcare business strategist at CDW Health. Tuesday, at Louisville Innovation SummitBaik joined Veera Anantha, President, Founder and CTO of Constant therapyand Caroline Arenz, partner at health boxto discuss how mobile app developers can design the best product to reduce noise and win clinical customers.

“For healthcare and senior care in the United States, where we’re 10 years behind the rest of the world, we’re looking for workflow changers,” Baik said. “How do you change something that’s manual to start increasing production and maximizing care?”

An example of a successful starter app is Constant Therapy, an app created by researchers at Boston University. It offers device-based personalized neurotherapy for the treatment of neurological disorders such as stroke and dementia, and has provided more than 27 million exercises to patients. Constant Therapy started out as a solution for providers, but the developers soon realized patients wanted it at home, too, Anantha said.

At Healthbox, the Arenz team manages the Intermountain Innovation Fund, which invests in emerging healthcare companies. “We have seen a proliferation of applications in the [health] space,” Arenz said. “We have to discern which one will be the winner.”

SEE: How tech can help seniors ‘age in place’, save money and be independent

When evaluating a mobile app, Arenz said his team recommends developers demonstrate the following:

  1. Results, especially clinical results. “When we’re going to sell an app to a vendor, we need to see something that will give them a return on investment, a reason to buy the app,” Arenz said.
  2. Use and adoption by patients. “We’re looking for something really sticky,” Arenz said. It examines how many users visit the app each day, how many times they return per day.
  3. Gamification and a personalized feed. Some sort of gamification often allows users to invest in visiting the app, Arenz said. “And something that almost looks like a Facebook or Instagram feed in the app is something we’ve found that keeps people coming back,” she added.
  4. Value for stakeholders in actionable data. “When investing in a solution, the most important thing will be to make sure the solution can gain traction,” Arenz said. “What we find valuable for stakeholders is the ability to find data from an app. They use it to drive interventions, and something actionable.

Arenz said Healthbox is looking for solutions that won’t impact a clinician’s typical workflow, but will allow them to care for more patients every day. “We take busy work out of everything they do,” Arenz said. “Some solutions we’ve seen in the care manager and aging space will collect a lot of patient data and only notify a care manager if there’s a problem.”

Anantha cautions against introducing electronic medical record (EMR) integration early in development. “You don’t want to introduce friction too early in the process,” he said. “When institutions start saying, ‘How can we start to systematize this and make this a standard of care?’ it will be easier for us to integrate with EMR.

However, Arenz said his team considers integration with EMR essential.

Most healthcare app developers say their product is HIPAA compliant or have a security system in place, Arenz told TechRepublic after the session. “It’s a big concern,” Arenz said. Most clinicians typically don’t ask about it and instead assume apps are HIPAA-compliant, she added.

How can your app make money?

Application developers are often faced with a choice: either monetize the application or demonstrate the return on investment so that the vendor absorbs the cost.

Biak and Arenz agreed that the ROI offer is the most effective for selling the product. “If you find a solution that provides ROI, a vendor is more willing to jump on it than something that’s just a brilliant penny concept around technology,” Biak said.

Providers are often attracted to per-member-per-month (PMPM) models, in which charges are only incurred when a patient chooses to enroll in the app. “You can get a provider on board for free, just paying for usage,” Arenz said. “It’s attractive to the vendor, who can start using the solution at low risk.”

Constant Therapy has turned traditional payment models upside down: the app is available free for clinicians and for a subscription fee for patients. There are now “a few thousand” subscribers, Anantha said.

The target demographic for the app is patients over the age of 65. “The first thing everyone thought was, ‘There’s no way people in this demographic are going to engage with a tech solution at home, let alone in the clinic,'” Anantha said. “But we’re seeing the engagement of the 65+ population is really high.”

The reason? “We found a solution that they really need,” Anantha said. “A life-changing event [such as a stroke] happened to them, which leads to a level of motivation that isn’t obvious to people like us who build apps. You have to try it and modify it as they give you their opinion.

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