Jeff Greene

Which Diseases Have the Most iPad apps? The Answers May Surprise You

So, I finally bought an iPad mini. Despite my self-professed love of Android, you can’t really call yourself a digital strategist in 2013 without daily exposure to both platforms. Besides, the iPad’s smaller cousin is one handsome hunk of silicon. It was time to indulge.

After downloading a few must-have apps like Dropbox, Evernote, and Fruit Ninja (for the kids), I spent about 10 hours in the App Store, surveying iPad apps that address chronic disease. I wanted to see if any patterns emerged that would provide insights for healthcare marketers and educators.

My research yielded plenty of surprises.

Surprise #1: I found little correlation between disease prevalence and iPad app count. Migraine—the most prevalent condition in the US of the nine chronic disease categories I surveyed—finished last in my count of apps. While it was estimated in 1999 that 27.9 million Americans experienced migraines, I found only 14 iPad apps that met my qualifying criteria during a search for “migraine.” (Scroll to the end of the blog for a description of my methodology.)

Likewise, my search for “asthma,” which affects approximately 25.9 million Americans, produced only 29 apps. That earned asthma a sixth-place ranking in my app count, even though it was #2 in disease prevalence. On the other hand, “breast cancer” finished third in my app count, despite holding seventh place for disease prevalence.

Surprise #2: There aren’t nearly as many chronic disease apps as I would have expected. With all the media attention paid to breast cancer, for example, I figured a search for “breast cancer” would turn up a lot more than 43 iPad apps. Yes, I realize there are many more apps for iPhone than for iPad. But still—only 30 iPad apps for “ADHD?” Just 26 for “skin cancer?” It’s even more surprising when you look deeper at the data and see …

Surprise #3: Disease-focused iPad apps for clinicians and healthcare professionals are few in number. Searches in seven of the nine categories I surveyed turned up 11 or fewer clinical-targeted apps. When I searched for “allergies,” I could only find seven apps targeting clinicians. When I searched for “migraine,” only one clinical-focused app met my qualifying criteria. This month, Manhattan Research revealed 72% of US physicians now own a tablet. All of those doctors have to be looking for something in the App Store. What will they find?

Which diseases have the most iPad apps?

In spite of the limitations of my research, there are some interesting insights here for any pharmaceutical company, marketing agency, or behavior-change startup planning a new app. Before you build anything, conduct a thorough landscape audit of the App Store in your category. Where are the unmet needs and opportunities? You will find many, including in highly prevalent disease categories such as migraine, skin cancer, and asthma. And, while I didn’t study the content of the apps in my audit, you definitely should. Even in categories with relatively larger numbers of iPad apps, such as diabetes, you’ll find that a lot of the app content is sub-par.

The methodology I used to search for apps illuminates just how tricky app discovery can be for patients and providers. It underscores why you need to develop a multichannel app launch plan if you want your app to see the light of day. Relying on App Store search functionality is hardly a best practice because users may not find your app when they search by disease. For example, when I searched for “HER2,” a gene associated with metastatic breast cancer, two iPad apps for breast cancer appeared that I didn’t find when I searched for “breast cancer.”

Now, Apple tried to address this search gap by creating an “Apps for Healthcare Professionals” section in the App Store. However, it’s just a tiny clearing deep within the App Store forest, now overgrown with more than 700,000 apps. Given that glut, you might want to follow the lead of Happtique and Medical App Journal, which are curating apps rather than creating them.

Finally, I think it’s worth taking a more strategic approach to app planning, which should be part of your broader mobile planning effort (which, in turn, should be part of your multichannel planning effort!) and start with an assessment of mobile investment criteria across target audiences and disease categories. Maybe disease prevalence isn’t the best yardstick for deciding where to spend your mobile budget. For example, which diseases require the most management outside the home? Perhaps those demanding constant trips to multiple specialists, like psychiatric diseases and cancer. Or diseases requiring significant mealtime management, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. Developing a set of criteria to tease out the potential value that would come from mobile experiences will make it easier for both marketers and innovators to prioritize disease-focused app development.

Methodology: Exact disease names in nine chronic disease categories were searched on the App Store between April 8-18, 2013. Diseases included: AD/HD, allergies, asthma, breast cancer, depression, diabetes, migraine, multiple sclerosis, and skin cancer. Only iPad apps addressing awareness, education, information, or management of the specific diseases studied, and only apps in English, were counted. Apps were sorted based on inferred target audience, either consumer or clinician. Prevalence data was based on the most recent available studies from the following entities: National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cleveland Clinic, and National Headache Foundation. Melanoma prevalence data was used for “skin cancer” because not all skin cancers are reported.

Jeff Greene is a strategist, writer, speaker, and agency intrapreneur who has spent 15 years guiding clients into the digital age. He helps leading life science companies, healthcare systems, nonprofits, and technology providers think critically about the impact of digital culture and evolve their marketing strategies accordingly. Jeff consults with New Solutions Factory on a variety of engagements. He is a fan of both Android and iOS devices.

Follow: @Jeff_Greene
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