When Apple CEO Steve Jobs heralded the age of the mobile application two years back, few had a clue what it would mean for
the way people consume media, advertising, and information. For years, we've been reading about the benefits of using mobile
apps in the pharmaceutical space; gallons of ink have been spilled predicting how physicians will one day meet with patients
with a stethoscope in one hand and a tablet PC in the other, or how sales reps will be able to detail doctors by beaming clinical
data through their Palm Pilots.
(GETTY IMAGES / ANTENNA)
Still, those heavily hyped plans remained pilot programs, and mobility never seemed to catch on. And then came the iPhone.
Within a year, the app went from concept to fruition, sparking billions of microprograms that do everything from play games
to balance your checkbook. It's official: The age of the app has arrived.
According to a recent report from Manhattan Research, in 2009, more than 20 million adults used a mobile device to search
for health information. That number is pretty staggering considering high-speed Internet access for phones has only really
been around for a handful of years.
"There is nobody that I know [in the pharma industry] that isn't working on a concept design; an RFP ... there's definitely
a great deal of interest in looking at where application fit into the communications mix," explains Ignite Health founder
and CIO Fabio Gratton.
Pharma has traditionally struggled with online adherence and compliance programs. Only a fraction of patients sign up for
the Web-based programs, and too often patients view the sites as marketing ploys. With mobile applications, however, patients
can access programs whenever and wherever they wish, removing the biggest challenge for pharma marketers—getting the patient
to remember to access the content.
Designing the Perfect App (GETTY IMAGES / SCOTT DUNLAP)
"Applications are easy to use, updatable, and mobile—they just make a lot more sense than a Web site that patients may or
may not visit," says Nima Farzan, US head of marketing for vaccines and diagnostics at Novartis. "One of the neat things about
the platform is that it really opens our eyes to some innovative ways to reach out to people. There was probably nothing stopping
us from having a [Web] program like Vaxtrak available three years ago, but it took something like [the iPhone] to show that
mobile applications can really address a problem—which in our case was to raise immunization rates."
Manhattan Research data shows that, as of this year, 72 percent of US physicians own smart phones. And that's likely to increase
to 81 percent penetration by 2012. Currently, the RIM Blackberry and the Apple iPhone are neck-and-neck in terms of physician
users, but Google's Android platform is creeping up, albeit slowly. PALM also has an app store, but its numbers are far from
Healthcare applications have strong potential for use among physicians, says Monique Levy, senior director of research at
Manhattan Research. "You see doctors using their phones to check a drug reference or clinical data, or snacking on content.
And the majority of physicians that use the Internet during patient consultation are doing so on a handheld device. Pharma
is extremely interested in this. The industry gets that for physicians smart phones are a critical channel and must define
what they are offering."
(GETTY IMAGES / JOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC)