Pharma companies belong the most active group of mHealth app publishers. Nevertheless as compared to the importance they have in the traditional healthcare market, their impact in this relatively new market is low. Before releasing the next wave of mHealth apps, pharma should start a thorough discussion regarding its best-fit role in the mHealth app ecosystem.
The twelve leading pharma companies have published more than 700 apps over the course of the last 5 years (Android and iOS). The majority of these apps target private users. With their entire app portfolio only 4 companies have managed to attract a user base that counts more than 100,000 app users in total.
This is one of the results of the “Pharma App Market Benchmarking 2014” report, published at the end of October.
The analysis shows that since the start of the app market, pharma companies have not yet proven to be successful mHealth app publishers. Looking ahead they should consider other roles that might better fit their assets and skills.
Some of the potential roles for pharma in the mHealth market are:
1. App publisher: This is the current role of pharma companies. Continuing to play that role would require restructuration of their current mHealth business. They will be challenged to become better in selecting the right app ideas, designing the business models, taking advantage of the existing concepts and codes, or in leveraging existing marketing channels to promote their apps. However, even these might not be enough to compete against the thousands of mHealth app developers who are 100% dedicated or tech giants like Apple, Google or Samsung that have recently entered into the mHealth app market.
2. Investor: For some companies it might be an option to open up a fund which invests money and other resources into promising or already successful mHealth apps. This role would require an excellent screening and evaluation capability. VCs and incubators that concentrate on apps are able to work off a pipeline of 1,000 mHealth apps per year.
3. App aggregator (app store): With more than 100,000 mHealth apps listed in Apple App Store and Google Play, the lack of visibility creates a need for specialized mHealth app stores. Pharma companies could manage and promote these mHealth app stores and pre-select the apps which fit their core products or fulfill current market demands.
4. Data provider /API manager: There will be hundreds of mHealth apps capturing millions of vital data metrics from their users every day. Most of it will be stored on “walled garden” servers with no link to the healthcare systems in doctors’ offices or hospitals. There are already companies trying to bridge the gap between the app economy and the healthcare system. But if pharma was able to jump into this very dynamic market with all its financial strength, it could extract the immense value from the data analysis to create better products.
5. Incubator: There are a lot of great technology-driven mHealth app companies out there which require e.g. a refinement of their business model, an access to traditional healthcare sales channels or just a professional working environment that a pharma company could easily provide. In return for this a pharma company would have a chance to to participate in the success of those companies and to learn from the start-up world e.g. about the entrepreneurial culture that is required in this fast-paced market.
What does this all mean for the pharma companies’ app strategy? Instead of heading in the same direction as is has done over the last five years, pharma might want to reconsider its role in the mHealth app ecosystem. Otherwise it is likely to remain an industry player with a low impact on the mHealth app market. This is not a serious threat to pharma’s core business today, but in the next five years it might become.
The “Pharma App Benchmarking 2014” report provides a detailed analysis about how pharma company make use of the new app channel and about their options for the future. To see the preview of the report, please click here.
Feedback and comments are as always very welcome.