Big Pharma Pushes Forward With Support Apps


Big pharma is becoming an industry leader in the emerging mobile health market, bringing support apps to the iOS and Android platforms to help drive medication adherence and support patients in chronic disease management with other digital tools. The approach makes sense.  Medication adherence increases sales for pharmaceutical companies, and disease management apps provide the industry a new, fairly unregulated, way of engaging directly with their consumers. Additionally, by collecting data from patients when they are at home, pharmaceutical companies can analyze the effectiveness of their medications and negotiate higher prices for medications that do a better job of managing chronic conditions and keeping patients out of the emergency room.

Still, the interest in engaging with patients through digital health is relatively new, as recently as 2012, researchers were calling out the pharmaceutical industry as lagging on patient engagement and digital health initiatives. By 2013, more than a twenty major digital health projects were underway across big pharma labs. AstraZeneca created a heart health risk calculator based on the GRACE 2.0 risk assessment. Novartis has developed an app to help patients search the National Institute of Health database for clinical trials they might qualify to participate in and, recently, BioDelivery Science rolled out its INREACH drug dependency app.


INREACH works in conjunction with BioDelivery’s opioid abuse medication, Bunavail, to help people fighting opioid dependence. The app is built around a bulletin board style message board where users, along with their friends and family members can post inspirational photos and messages to the patient. The app generates medication reminders, reminders for group support meetings, lets users track incidents of opioid abuse throughout their recovery, and provides physicians with helpful data for tracking a patients recovery.

Not all recent news from the digital health space is good though, as clinically inaccurate mobile health apps continues to plague the industry. A recently published study in BMC Medicine analyzed 46 apps that were marketed as helping diabetics calculate their next insulin dose. Within the 46 apps, all but one were found to contain at least one design error that could lead to a clinical miscalculation. Errors included failing to validate the numbers entered make sense, calculating doses when some fields are left blank, failing to calculate doses with appropriate decimal precision, failing to display calculation formula, and more. The lack of clinically accurate apps highlights the need for broader contributions from established healthcare players like pharmaceutical companies.

There certainly seems to be a win-win relationship on the horizon for pharmaceutical companies, who have long fought for ways of engaging directly with their consumers, and patients, who struggle with app stores that are inundated with clinically unsound health apps.

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