Opps for Apps

J0438762 It is no state secret that the pharmaceutical industry is seriously lagging behind other industries – even other highly regulated industries – in making use of digital media to engage and support their stakeholders.  There are still many, if not most, that are not even using RSS feeds to issue news or to communicate internally with staff.   And as mentioned yesterday, there is a less than overwhelming presence on Twitter.  There is often the excuse put forth that pharma is hobbled by regulations (or lack thereof).  Ok.

A few days ago, I came across a new app for iPhone that I thought was amazing.  Dunkin Donuts, already recognized as a pioneer in its use of digital and social media, has come up with an iPhone app that is designed to help you organize group runs for coffee and donuts to the nearest Dunkin Donuts store and have your order ready for pickup.  It's called Dunkin Run.  Yes, that's right.   Brace yourself.  This is only the beginning.  Before too long I would imagine that there will be an app that takes you to any chain restaurant and helps you order and pay for your meal – lines will become a thing of the past.

What the hell am I talking about?  

Well, here it is.  It seems to me that as pharmaceutical companies are mostly being very shy little creatures about engaging in social media, they may want to start thinking a little beyond the most obvious ways to engage consumers in the social media to some that are less obvious.  Here are the things that pharma companies can and should be exploring.  How about some smart phone applications that 

- support and track a person's diabetes needs – from diet to levels;
- offer the capacity to help a person stay on a complex drug regimen (better than those branded little pill boxes they give out)
- support as part of a REMS program
- support to tell if a drug and/or OTC product and/or supplement might have dangerous interactions
- dietary weight loss compliance
- help in working with particular medical devices

Outreach to patients doesn't have to be limited to twitter, blogs and other forms of social media.  The realm of digital media is complex, evolving and increasingly integrated.  Pharmaceutical companies are light years behind, but with some innovative thought, the industry doesn't have to stay that way.  A patient might find a Facebook page engaging, but an app that helps her out on a daily basis would be more than engaging, it would be essential support and position the pharmaceutical company as more than a drug manufacturer, but a partner in care. 

There could even be apps for other stakeholders, like investors.  

Does everyone have a smart phone?  No.  But 20 years ago, most people didn't have a mobile phone and if they did, it was the size of a shoe box.  Smart phones are here and their presence and influence in commerce will be huge.  This is an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry which should not continue to be the laggard in the race to innovate in digital media and by all means, should not wait for the FDA to find which way the wind is blowing in digital media.  The first to figure this out will make the others increase in irrelevance.  
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5 Responses to Opps for Apps

  1. Carmen Gonzalez says:

    There are applications out there doing what you suggest already, so I think the tide has turned. Take a look at Johnson & Johnson’s Lifescan blood glucose monitor that is Bluetooth enabled and synch with the iPhone: http://mobihealthnews.com/973/interview-lifescan-on-iphone-30/
    In fact, pharma is beginning to integrate social media for improving patient compliance and reporting. Here’s a study called SweetTalk that researchers in Edinburgh conducted with teens who were diagnosed with diabetes, where texting helped bridge the gap between patient and clinical health staff: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/html/1807/16669/jmir.html
    Change is definitely on the way.

  2. Mark Senak says:

    Thanks very much – this is most helpful. I knew that there was some stuff out there, but my main point is that I think drug developers need to be engaged on this level much more broadly. Thanks for the link to this info!

  3. I’m with you Mark. I wrote about this same issue a while back. http://bit.ly/Szwed
    J&J has made a really nice app for caregivers to help track all the info they need to take care of, say, an elderly relative. Links in the blog post.

  4. Almost any app aimed at parents to help monitor a child’s progress will be well received in the current market. Often a scheduler with established milestones is enough to become valuable. Love the idea of text reminders.

  5. By the 4th quarter of 2011 most mobile phones on the street will be smartphones, not full function phones. This will enable health consumers to download apps where they are available. While not all consumers will engage with mHealth simultaneously (think: market segmentation), many patients are already managing diabetes, asthma, and even GI issues (see WellApps GI Monitor for example at https://www.wellapps.com) via apps. See more on this in my white paper published by California HealthCare Foundation, How Smartphones Are Changing Health Care for Consumers and Providers, at http://bit.ly/deOspR.