4 tips for mobile healthcare app success

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

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The mobile healthcare app industry is exploding, with more than 195,000 such apps currently on the market, according to Ginna Baik, senior care business strategist at CDW Healthcare. On Tuesday, at the Louisville Innovation Summit, Baik joined Veera Anantha, president, founder and CTO of Constant Therapy, and Caroline Arenz, associate at Healthbox, to discuss how mobile app developers can design the best product to cut through the noise and gain clinical customers.

"For US healthcare and senior care, where we are 10 years behind the rest of the world, we're looking for workflow gamechangers," Baik said. "How do you change something that's manual to start to increase production and maximize care?"

Constant Therapy, an app created by Boston University researchers, is an example of startup app success. It offers device-based personalized neurological therapy for the treatment of neurological disorders such as strokes and dementia, and has delivered more than 27 million exercises to patients. Constant Therapy began as a solution for providers, but the developers soon realized that patients wanted it at home as well, Anantha said.

At Healthbox, Arenz's team manages the Intermountain Innovation Fund, which invests in emerging healthcare companies. "We've seen a proliferation of apps in the [health] space," Arenz said. "We need to discern which one will be the one that wins."

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

  1. Results, specifically clinical outcomes. "When going to sell an app to a provider, we need to see something that will give them an ROI, a reason to buy the app," Arenz said.
  2. Patient use and adoption. "We're looking for something really sticky," Arenz said. She examines how many users visit the app every day, how many times they come back per day.
  3. Gamification and a personalized feed. Some kind of gamification often keeps users invested in visiting the app, Arenz said. "And something almost like a Facebook or Instagram feed within the app is something we found gets people coming back," she added.
  4. Value for stakeholders in actionable data. "When investing in a solution, the biggest thing is going to be making sure that the solution can gain traction," Arenz said. "Something 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 looks for solutions that will not impact a clinician's typical workflow, but will enable them to care for more patients each day. "We're taking the busy work out of whatever they're doing," Arenz said. "Some solutions we've seen in the care manager and aging space will collect a lot of data on patients, and only notify a care manager if there is an issue."

Anantha cautions against introducing electronic medical record (EMR) integration at the start of development. "You don't want to introduce friction too early in the process," he said. "When institutions start saying 'How do we start systematizing this and making it a standard of care?' it will be easier for us to integrate with EMR."

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

Most healthcare app developers state that their product is HIPAA compliant, or that they have a security system in place, Arenz told TechRepublic after the session. "It's a big concern," Arenz said. Most clinicians usually don't ask about it, and instead assume apps are HIPAA compliant, she added.

How can your app make money?

App developers often face a choice: Either monetize the app, or demonstrate ROI so the provider will absorb the cost.

Biak and Arenz agreed that offering ROI is most effective for selling the product. "If you find a solution that brings ROI, a provider is more willing to jump on that than something that's just a shiny penny concept around technology," Biak said.

Providers are often attracted to per-member, per-month (PMPM) models, in which fees are only initiated when a patient chooses to enroll in the app. "You can get a provider on board for free, only paying for usage," Arenz said. "It's attractive for the provider, who can start using the solution for low risk."

Constant Therapy flipped traditional payment models: The app is available free to clinicians, and for a subscription fee to patients. There are a "couple thousand" subscribers now, Anantha said.

The app's target demographic is patients over age 65. "The first thing anyone thought was, 'There's no way people in that demographic will engage with a tech solution at home, let alone in the clinic,'" Anantha said. "But we're seeing the engagement of the 65 and older population is really high."

The reason? "We hit upon a solution they really need," Anantha said. "A life-changing event [such as a stroke] happened to them, which leads to a motivation level that's not obvious to folks like us building apps. You have to try it out and change it as they give you feedback."

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