Pharma Companies Far From Realizing Their App Market Potential

Rather than creating many niche apps, pharmaceutical companies would be more successful in the mobile space observing what industry leaders are doing.

The mHealth app market is highly fragmented. With many different treatments and possible mHealth solutions, pharmaceutical companies are spoilt for choice when it comes to, which apps to build for the mobile arena. At the moment, the pharmaceutical industry has not yet been able to play a bigger role in the mHealth app market, even though the industry possesses a wealth of resources. There is also a great mismatch between the topics pharma companies are concentrating on and the topics top apps players are focusing on.

This is one of the results of two new reports that have been published beginning of August 2013:  mHealth app performance benchmarking report and the Top 10 Pharma companies mHealth insight paper show what the pharmaceutical industry is focusing on.

UPDATE: We have published an updated extended Pharma App Benchmarking 2014 report (23nd of October) about how Pharma companies make use of mobile apps

Today, there are nearly 250 apps created by pharmaceutical companies available on iOS and Android. The apps run the gamut from those focused on managing chronic medical conditions (among the most common apps created for personal use) to medical reference apps geared towards doctors. Most of these apps fail to generate more than a few thousand downloads each.

chart pharma


Only Sanofi Aventis’ portfolio of apps counts more than 1 million downloads, but even that number isn’t so high compared to industry leaders like Runtastic (fitness tracking), Medscape (a leading medical resource for doctors and nurses) and Healthtap (connects patients with doctors around the world), counting millions of users.

See the global mHealth app benchmarking report to find out how top mHealth apps perform in the USA, UK, Germany, Japan and Brazil.

While it’s hard to analyze all the problems with pharma apps, here are three reasons why pharma hasn’t managed to play a more dominant role in the mHealth app market yet.

1. Missing adoption of best practices

Best practice apps are being used on a daily basis, to connect via social channels, use gamification elements, use innovative solutions to create a “wow-effect”, etc. These best practice apps are graphically compelling, can be used intuitively, provide APIs to connect to third party data/ functionality and are just incredibly helpful for their target group.

Most apps from larger pharma companies fail to meet the best practice criteria today.

2. Too little focus on main market app categories

Of the 250 pharmaceutical apps currently available on iOS and Android, many focus on managing specific health conditions or provide medical reference for HCPs. While this might be an expected strategy to stay close to core competencies, it also means that pharma companies voluntarily exclude themselves from the bigger mobile app markets inside (e.g. fitness and wellness apps) and outside (e.g. games) of the mHealth app category.

3. Lack of integration of apps with core business

Increasingly, the medical community is realizing that selling pharmaceutical products only might not be the best long-term strategy, and that apps can help to educate and engage patients and HCPs and finally to sell their products.

By linking their apps to products & services, rather than separating them, pharma companies can use the mobile space to directly connect with patients and doctors.

Compliance apps with automatic prescription refills or sensor supported diabetes apps that create new demand for test strips are just two examples to link apps to existing business.

To gain some traction in the app space, the pharmaceutical industry should pay more attention to what app market leaders are doing. The app world offers many new business opportunities to increase revenues, reduce costs and add value to existing products. The common trial-and-error approach must be replaced by an app strategy development process that engages all “app managers” within a company.

Comments are as always welcome.

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NEW: Our report “EU Countries’ mHealth App Market Ranking 2015” is out now. Download it for free.

This post currently has 3 responses.

  1. […] in mHealth. The consulting firm research2guidance produced both reports. Highlights of the reports are available free on the firm’s website, and MedCity News also has reported on the […]

  2. Sangita says:

    I guess on the point 2, its the “glucose biscuit” vs cream biscuit problem seen in FMCG – should you address the main/ bulk part of the market that is already lead by someone else or should you address niches…i guess if u combine the niche with point 3, atleast that makes sense

  3. Thank you for this summary of your report. We think that ine of the reasons for pharma companie’s lagging behind in the app economy is a certain uncertainty of the specific market’s needs.

    Teherefore, together with our client MSD GmbH (, we conducted an App Idea Contest (Mobile Health App Ideen Wettbewerb 2013 to engage with MSD’s HCPs and to create app ideas in an open innovation environment.

    Participants submitted 100 very interesting app ideas, which now will be scrutinized internally and could build the basis for apps which meet your three criteria mentioned above.

    The app ideas contest has been a great success for all participants and we are are looking forward to seeing sustainable apps being launched as a result of it in the future.

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