What separates the mobile health app “millionaires” from the rest?

Mobile health app makers that are successful are more likely to develop apps for hospitals as opposed to people with chronic conditions and tend to rely on revenues from health services delivered through their apps, according to a survey of 5,000 by research2guidance.

A global survey focusing on mobile health apps shows the majority of those companies and developers who produce them are dissatisfied with the reception their apps receive on the market, and say performance falls short of their goals. The report by German market research company research2guidance also indicated a changing profile of the developers and businesses behind these apps, along with their priorities.

The survey also sought to explore some of the distinguishing characteristics of successful mobile health app makers.

The report found that more than half of developers (60 percent) said they were unhappy with the results their apps achieved. About 62 percent of app producers generated less than 5,000 downloads with their entire mhealth app portfolio, according to the report. Eleven percent reached more than 100,000 downloads and only 2 percent had downloads of 1 million or more in one year.

The majority of the developers and companies behind these apps (67 percent) made less than $10,000 with their app engagement strategy.

Just to be clear, the report is based on an international survey with 40 percent of the 5,000 respondents from Europe, 32 percent from North America, and 23 percent from Asia-Pacific countries. Participants from Africa and South America accounted for 5 percent of the total.

People with chronic conditions are the most common target audience for app developers, at 48 percent, particularly diabetics. Hospitals have replaced physicians as the second biggest target audience, with 32 percent of app developers focusing on this user base.

More than half of mobile health app developers (52 percent) are technology companies, and having medical professionals on the team is viewed as a priority. Since the 2014 report, there’s been a 10 percent increase in participants who said they have hired medical professionals to their teams. There was a significant drop in those who said they don’t collaborate with medical professionals from 11 percent in 2014 to 3 percent this year.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Motivations have changed a bit for app developers in the past year. There was a 6 percent increase in respondents who said they wanted to help patients improve their health (53 percent), and a 5 percent rise in those who said they wanted to reduce healthcare costs (48 percent). About 45 percent said they sought to generate revenue from mobile health apps, a 4 percent decrease over 2014.

The report also sought to answer the question: What are some of the factors that make mobile health app developers successful. Its definition of success was those developers and businesses that generated more than $1 million in revenue from apps.

About 47 percent of the businesses categorized as “millionaires” have developed apps since before 2010 and they rely on revenues from health services delivered through their apps. Their top goal is to increase sales of existing services or products.  They also are more likely to develop apps for hospitals as opposed to people with chronic conditions. They also tend to have a higher volume of apps — 12 vs seven.

Additional findings included:

  • API aggregation services are the most common mHealth data access method. Fitness and nutrition app makers are much more advanced in connecting to APIs than, say, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, which have the lowest API connection rate for their apps.
  • App makers increasingly rely on analytics tools such as Flurry, Distimo, Localytics (49 percent) social network APIs (43 percent); testing and performance tools such as Crashlytics and Testflight (38 percent) and secure storage (30 percent).
  • For behavior change, apps that function as alerts are seen as the easiest to implement and the most effective. Although apps that provide direct interaction between physicians and patients such as allowing users to share weekly test results and provide feedback to their patients is viewed as having the greatest impact on behavior change, it’s regarded as the most difficult to implement. Yet, 41 percent of app makers claim to have implemented these apps in some way.

Photo: Flickr user Toni Blay