5 reasons to think twice about building an App

Population Health,Mobile,Patient Satisfaction

It seems the joke “there’s an app for that” is becoming more of a reality nowadays. Whether you’re an Android, Apple, or Windows user, there’s a plethora of apps to download for virtually any reason.

So it’s only logical for the health care industry to build apps as a means to increase patient engagement, right?  For any other industry, this may be true, but not particularly for health care. When evaluating how an app fits into your patient engagement strategy, the following considerations should be kept in mind:

1. Accessibility 

According to the Pew Research Center, smart phone ownership across the US is at 64%. While this number is continuing to grow, this means that a significant number of health care consumers – your patients – cannot take advantage of this technology.

2. Learning curve 

Navigating to app stores, downloading and configuring apps is not always easy – even for smartphone owners.  Beyond that, not all apps are intuitively designed and easy to use. This is especially problematic for the diverse population of patients that would be using the app. These factors can cause unnecessary stress and frustration to your patients.

3. Low adoption 

There are over 165,000 mHealth apps available now, but most continue to have limited functionality.  A total of 36 apps account for nearly half of all downloads and 40% of all apps have fewer than 5,000 downloads, demonstrating their limited reach. Given the low adoption rates, the jury is still out on their utility and effectiveness for the average health care consumer.

4. High friction

A wide variety of information can be accessed through the app – some of which likely includes protected health information. Because of this, the entire app needs to be secured with a unique username and password. This, alone, creates a barrier for the patient to access some simple information that does not require a secure connection (e.g., general wellness tips). Taking this a step further, the typical patient accesses more than one health care provider. If each of those providers builds an app and expects the patient to access it, the number of usernames and passwords that have to be managed quickly becomes overwhelming (a situation we can all likely relate to in our own digital lives).

5. Fragmentation

While Apple iOS is fairly homogeneous and the majority of users are running the most current version, the Android ecosystem is extraordinarily fragmented (meaning there are many different versions of the Android operating system in use at any given point in time) which makes it a challenge to develop apps that work perfectly on each. Is it really worth the time and development expense to ensure your app works across devices and operating systems?

There is an alternative. One “app” that comes standard with virtually every type of cell phone and most US adults use is text messaging. It’s simple to use, reaches patients directly, and doesn’t require a special interface to work. Links can be embedded in the text message to seamlessly direct patients to specific destinations on the mobile web which further increases the potential for mobile patient engagement. Finally, for interactions which require the exchange of protected health information, secure messaging options exist so patients and their health care providers can be assured the appropriate measures are taken to protect privacy. If you haven’t explored text-first interactions to support your patient engagement initiatives, the time is right to check it out.

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