Pfizer: Think patient-first when developing mobile health apps

By Jonah Comstock
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Pfizer Quitters CircleNYC-based pharma company Pfizer currently has 15 apps in the US iOS app store, ranging from a chapstick companion app to an app for people with kidney cancer. At the HIMSS Connected Health Summit in National Harbor, Maryland, Pfizer executives talked about two of the company's apps and their broader strategy for developing mobile health interventions.

"We recognize that the data shows patients expect meaningful digital solutions from us, and it is our obligation to deliver that," Judy Sewards, vice president of data and digital innovations, said. "When we think about it at Pfizer, we’re not thinking about what's the next shiny thing, or what's the next widget or what everyone else is doing, but looking through the lens of our patients as people."

For instance, Pfizer's app for smoking cessation, called Quitter's Circle, was developed in partnership with the American Lung Association. Dennis Hancock, Pfizer VP of global commercial solutions, said all the features of that app were driven by insights into the quitting process.

The app incorporates a social feed with a curated network because Pfizer found that quitting smoking can be isolating and that family and friends were top motivators. The app includes help scheduling and remembering doctor visits, because they found that just consulting with a health care provider doubles someone's chance of quitting successfully. And it even includes a crowdfunding feature, because they found cost was a barrier to quitting for many.

"It would be really easy to talk about buzzwords -- telemedicine, crowdfunding," he said. "While they’re important features to the app, they had to be driven by insights into what the smoker would find useful. I don’t think chasing features is a really good idea in the mHealth space. Let’s start with insights to know what people want and overcome those barriers using the best tools available."

Hancock also spoke about HemMobile, Pfizer's app for people with hemophilia. The app enables logging of bleeds, transfusion, and activity, which can be tracked automatically via HealthKit. It also aims to make it easier for the patient to share that data with their healthcare provider.

"One of the insights we learned about hemophilia was that logging is important to treatment," Hancock said. "Analog logging schemes can be very demotivating at times. So imagine if you’re a 10-year-old hemophiliac and you have to write down every time you have a bleed and every time you deliver an infusion. You could imagine the compliance with that would be really low. I can’t get my 10-year-old son to tell me if he has homework due tomorrow. I can’t imagine having him log something that occurs multiple times per day."

Pfizer's mobile strategy boils down to a simple mantra, Sewards said: Be useful, be human, and be committed.

"One, be useful," she said. "It’s about them, not about us. Second, be human. Make sure the solution is easy, friendly, and engages with them in the way they want to be engaged with. Finally, be committed. When we launch a solution, that’s not the end but really the beginning of our commitment to our patient and to our customers."