Interactivity, time determine success of hospital apps

If you're building a smartphone app for your hospital or health system, spend your development dollars on interactive clinical functions, not just static administrative information.

That's the advice FierceMobileHealthcare received from James Hallick, vice president of research and product development at Madison, Wis.-based healthcare marketing firm CPM Marketing Group, which recently surveyed thousands of its own consumers to find out what they want from hospital apps. Hallick, who conducted the survey to help the company's hospital customers develop their own apps, shared a couple of tips with us about where to take app development first.

  • Interactivity: Users say they want compliance-related apps, first and foremost, such as medication reminders, appointment reminders and post-discharge instructions. "This is the first way people want to use their smartphones," Hallick says.
  • Emergency information: Next most important for survey takers was the ability to access hospital resources in an emergency, such as finding the closest emergency room or EMT station. "They want to use their smartphones to get access to care as quickly as possible," he says.
  • Health information. Some surveys have put this at the top of users' lists, but Hallick insists it was a distant third among the CPM survey respondents. Users are spending more time online getting health data, but "it's not their top priority," on their smartphones, he says. A Pew Research survey from last October indicates only 17 percent of users look up health information on their smartphones, although that skews a little higher for younger users.

"Too many hospitals are just taking information from their websites and putting it into an app," but often that information is single-use data like contact information or service rundowns, Hallick says. To be "sticky," the app needs to provide ongoing utility, and information users can't get elsewhere, such as public health alerts or patient-specific clinical information.

Two big reasons to get your app right the first time:

  • App drop-off rates are sky-high: Nearly 75 percent of users say they stop using apps after the 10th use. Ease-of-use is the top reason users gave for dumping an app.
  • Time: Users don't wait long to make such determinations. Another Pew Research study, this one from last September, determined that there's roughly a two-week window before users will doff an app if it's not delivering value.

A final tip from Hallick: Don't look to your smartphone apps to market your hospital's services. "I don't believe a smartphone is a good marketing device," he says. "It's a relationship or customer-service device. The direction of our R&D is on the patient experience--trying to optimize and manage that." - Sara