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Pharma apps should focus on key needs to succeed

Most mobile apps provide information about medicines. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Most mobile apps provide information about medicines. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH  

There seems to be an explosion in the local pharma scene’s adoption of mobile apps. In the last few months, no less than five have had high profile launches. No doubt many more have been developed and ported into app stores without such fanfare.

Most of such apps provide information about medicines, others give directions on where to get certain drugs, but a few go the extra mile to offer purchase options.

Some while ago, I spent time at a Nairobi tech hub as a mobile apps trainee courtesy of the World Bank’s Infodev programme.

The goal was to understand the impact such technologies could have on healthcare, but more importantly see how to make them sustainable as products.

A few vital lessons gleaned from the training can be shared with healthcare app developers and owners.

The starting point is to ask if there is a market for the app and why existing solutions are not tapping into it.

To do this, one needs to ask if the apps are trying to either compete with existing brick and mortar entities or complement them.

While similar apps abroad may have been successful, extrapolating such business models locally may not work sometimes.

The regulatory environment varies across countries, making product adoption and penetration totally different.

The rationale is that, in stringently regulated retail pharmacy environments, apps are more likely to work because they answer two vital components of such clients’ demands: convenience and privacy.

In Kenya’s retail pharmaceutical scene with well over 30,000 pharmacies, one hardly moves from a building before seeing one.

This of course raises concern for developers trying to answer the “convenience” question of the former scenario.

Where one can buy most drugs including strictly regulated ones without prescriptions or identification, these two parameters are obviously not unique selling propositions.

One other thing pharma app developers need to remember is defining their customer base in terms of the three metrics; ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘when’.

The reasons people buy medicines through apps is answered above.

The ‘when’ answers the temporal aspect of such transactions, helping with marketing and product awareness.

However, defining the customer is perhaps the most important since one needs to understand a few details like the user’s age, insured or not, residence, gender, occupation etcetera.

Secondly, such products only make money if volumes are high. A profitable app must meet the privacy and convenience metrics.

The only categories that fit this picture are chronic disease clients who have repeat refills and top of my list has anti-retroviral ARV medications, antihypertensive, diabetes and reproductive health drugs or devices.

One is also likely to have success selling post-exposure prophylaxis PEP and HIV self-testing home kits by apps than conventional drugs.

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