MedCity News eNewsletter, Health IT, Patient Engagement

ENGAGE: Keep health apps simple, outcomes-focused

“I don’t think people give a damn about their health unless they’re sick, then they care a lot,” said Neal Sofian, vice president of engagement and innovation at Vivacity, a Premera Blue Cross wellness subsidiary, at the MedCity ENGAGE conference.

Healthcare app developers take note: “Patients are people. They’re only patients part of the time,” advised Neal Sofian, vice president of engagement and innovation at Vivacity, a wellness subsidiary of Premera Blue Cross in Washington state.

More than a few developers focus too much on customer retention rather than app efficacy, according to Sofian. If the health app is to address a one-time concern rather than a chronic disease, retention is far less important than building something that people use when they really need it, he said.

“I don’t think people give a damn about their health unless they’re sick, then they care a lot,” Sofian said Tuesday at the MedCity ENGAGE conference in Bethesda, Md. “Illness is not the same as health, but that’s what we’ve been building on,” Sofian added, to some applause.

Instead of inquire about a disease or medical condition, apps should ask questions that are meaningful to people’s lives, such as “How did you sleep?” “How is your energy?” or “How are your relationships?” according to Sofian.

“The key [to a successful health app] is to look for a critical piece of insight from the user,” suggested Adam Turinas, CEO of secure healthcare messaging service provider Practice Unite. “Caregivers make bad decisions when they don’t have good information.”

Craig Hankins, vice president for consumer engagement products at UnitedHealthcare, said that the payer’s apps originally were intented to help people better navigate benefits and turn to the health plan as a resource. Members soon flocked to one particular feature, one that simply makes their lives easier. “Who would have thought that the ID card would be the most likeable feature about the app?” Hankins said.

Natasha Gajewski, founder and CEO of Symple Health, maker of an online health journal, agreed with the advice about simplicity. Gajewski built Symple to automate tasks she didn’t want to do to manage her own rare disease. “I was the most disengaged patient ever,” Gajewski said.

And because Symple Health was built to be “disease-agnostic,” it got good uptake from app stores. Now, Gajewski is focusing on making the app clinically relevant, but still remembers the original purpose. “Are [users] living their life to create data? Or are they creating data to live a better life?” Gajewski asked. “Being specific about the job you need to get done is very important.”

Hankins took this point to discuss form factor on smartphones, compared to tablets and computers. “That small screen forces you to really scale it down,” he said. “You’ve got to cut it just to the bare minimum.”