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8 lessons Apple is learning from 8 mobile health apps

Jacqueline Emigh | Nov. 4, 2015
Open your phone and say Ahh.

“Social networks and games generally have higher retention rates than business or health apps. Based, we believe, on our use of compelling features, good design, and timely reminders, we’ve been able to keep users coming back to Asthma Health,” Bridges said. When users of the app are sent reminders each Monday, usage spikes.

Successful mHealth apps will need to continually engage participants, concurred Brian Bot, principal scientist at Sage Bionetworks, co-developer of the mPower app with the University of Rochester. In mPower, tasks where patients are asked to engage in an activity tend to be the best received and most often completed.

“Not surprisingly, saying ‘aaaaaaah’ into a phone for ten seconds or trying to tap as fast as you can carries much less friction than completing a 20-question survey,” Bot told ITworld in an email.

Lesson Two: Apps should run on Android, too

ResearchKit’s main limitation is that the first crop of apps runs only on Apple hardware, according to Baker. Moreover, some researchers maintain that the data from the ResearchKit apps is skewed, since iPhone users tend to be younger and much more affluent than the overall US population.

Five of the ResearchKit applications are open source, an advantage designed to allow ports to Andoid as well as integration with existing devices such as medical monitoring systems.

Apple is reportedly trying to encourage Android ports by developers.

“We are actively interested in [Android ports] ourselves,” said LifeMap’s Bridges. “We haven’t revealed our schedule, though.”

Yet, although these ports are possible, they’re not a proverbial piece of cake, some partners say.

“The difficulty will be reconciling the differences between sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones and cameras (on various Android phones),” according to Bot. But “there are efforts moving forward among the Android community,” he added.

Lesson Three: mHealth apps offer unprecedented geographic reach

“More than 50,000 people downloaded our app," recalled Dr. Yvonne Chan, director of digital health and personalized medicine at Icahn School of Medicine, in a summary of preliminary results for the Asthma Health app. Of those 50,000 downloads, 8,800 people “met our strict eligibility criteria to join the study (asthma diagnosed by a physician, on prescription meds for asthma, USA resident, 18 or older),” according to Chan.

“We broke the geographic barrier that typically limits traditional research to the local area of the university/medical center. For our study, 87% of participants live outside of NY and NJ!”

This kind of reach could also come into play for scenarios involving remote diagnosis by medical specialists based in far off locations.

Lesson Four: Some apps need to speak multiple languages

Various other analyst firms, many of them based overseas, have pointed to rapid future growth in regions like Latin America and Asia-Pacific. They cite factors such as rising penetration of mobile devices and increasing awareness that remote monitoring of chronic illnesses can help to cut re-hospitalization and other healthcare costs.


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