Pharma Mobile Apps Are Not Dead and Kudos Sanofi, But More Can Be Done

Doc iPad

In my eyes, we’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg for health and mobile, it has always just been a matter of avoiding the giant block of ambiguous ice that lives underneath that tip – but with the proper navigation, the opportunity for innovation and success is unlimited. The caution comes mostly in the fear of risk (with minimal actual risk) and most importantly the map that your digital/social or agency partners are taking to get you there. Make sure you have the right partners.

Sanofi-Aventis recently updated the AFib Educator app, which prompted this post – along with hearing more and more folks saying that mobile apps are dead in Pharma.

I recently wrote a post about the power of the mobile devices, accessibility they offer, the opportunity to help patients have better conversations with their doctors and just generally better manage their health – and as I mentioned above, it’s just the tip of the iceberg  in terms of potential.

In that post I highlighted the sanofi-aventis AFib Educator app, it’s potential and the fact that it had not been updated in quite a while. Well, I’m delighted to report that sanofi has devoted some time and effort in keeping the app alive by updating the design – which looks clean and great. There’s now also an iPad version to compliment the iPhone version, so kudos to the team for keeping the AFib Educator living despite the several turnovers in brand management the brand has most likely seen (speculation of course, but usually the way pharma works).

Despite the app being more than a few years old – I firmly to believe it is still just the beginning, as in nearly a decade of digital/social evolving in pharma, I’m still not seeing technology being used to fulfill its true potential in health (and I don’t mean medical devices/apps). Granted, we have recent FDA guidance regarding the differentiation between general health/wellness apps and apps that diagnose or manage a condition, but guidance gives us guard rails to find ways to provide value to physicians, patients and caregivers, not restrictions.

Continuing to use the AFib Educator app as an example, much was left to be desired in the latest update. The design was updated and an iPad version was added, but it’s puzzling to me as to why the videos themselves, UX, content or copy within the app weren’t refreshed to provide a better user experience and expand to be a better tool for patients. Best practices-wise, when you open the videos in the iPad app, they’re the same physical size as the videos used in the iPhone version, in fact, all the videos are the same…and look old and worn out.

Perhaps sanofi has plans to update that content, but in the time it’s taken to get this update out, I’d expect more in a refresh from a usability and content perspective. This reinforces the importance of a true digital strategist for projects like this.

Some quick thoughts (Sanofi brand managers, feel free to get in touch :)) –

  • Why not build in vibrations to match the heart-beats in the videos and let patients feel the flutter of AFib in their hand, rather than just listening or viewing it?
  • What about adding functionality to record heart flutters to assess future risk and have recorded data for your doctor to view? (if applicable)
  • Additionally, while the app helps to explain AFib “management,” it’s actually speaking to what a physician may do or prescribe (understandable as it’s a tool meant for HCPs), but really doesn’t provide much in the way of explanation for patients. This is contrary to what I expected from a section called “Management,” which I thought would be tools or information that help patients manage, record or recognize their condition. That’s not to say the “Management” tab doesn’t provide value, just that the copy can be slightly confusing, and that section of the app is limited to very high-level information about how HCPs might manage AFib, something good for discussion with a doctor, but not very actionable for the patient in everyday life. For example, there isn’t much information on how the process of applying rate control works – a device? a pill? There doesn’t need to be a mention of a product, but merely explaining in a visual way the process by which those treatment paths may work.

I don’t mean to poke holes in what may be one of the top (and very few) doctor-patient communication tools out there, but there’s just an opportunity that pharma seems to miss in providing a little more in terms of what patients may need or want out of an app – namely updating the multimedia and static content, along with the design and functionality, and make it truly useful for patients dealing with the condition. Expand it from being strictly an HCP tool to a tool for patients as well. Blur the line and encourage conversation.

If you know of other apps like these please share in the comments!

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