Focusing on Return on Investment for your mobile app? You’re searching for value in the wrong place

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Date published
February 5, 2021
love metrics for mobile app

Steps for turning your healthcare applications into brand-building engines

We hear often from healthcare clients that they have launched an app for their patients, but aren’t seeing the business benefits they expected—especially ROI.

While measuring return on investment is a good metric for established products and services, it doesn’t always make sense for digital experiences, especially when those experiences are brand new. According to Geoffrey Moore, it can take most digital products two to five years to realize revenue, so it’s impractical to evaluate the success of your app by a unit of measure that doesn't even exist yet. Instead, we advise our clients to go beyond ROI as a measure of success, focusing instead on the holistic value that an app can provide to a patient.

A holistic approach to understanding the success of your app requires looking beyond ROI.


This shift in thinking requires getting back to basics: What are the goals of your app? Most executives would say they are trying to serve the needs of patients and healthcare providers. We say, if your product is doing that and people are using it, then you've succeeded.

A holistic approach to understanding the success of your app requires looking beyond ROI. "Love metrics" such as frequency of use and download volumes, are important and powerful. If for example, your app is targeting a patient population in a rare disease therapeutic category that sees only 10,000 diagnoses a year, achieving 5,000 downloads would be a tremendous success. Great engagement is a powerful indicator of customer-stickiness, and future ROI.

The success of your app should be measured by the end users, not your finance department.

To put this in perspective, take the example of a companion app that helps patients remember to take their dosages at the right time, and monitor their symptoms. This app might not pay in dollars, but it may pay in a better patient experience. The news of a good experience with your app will spread quickly through the communities of care your patient is involved in, including with their healthcare providers—who will recommend the app to other patients.

ROI should instead be used as a guardrail, not the prime measure of success. As a guardrail, it caps investment in the app so that your teams don’t attempt to invent a market where there isn’t one. But their success should be measured by the end users, not your finance department.

However, what happens if your app isn’t winning the popularity or investment contest?

For our healthcare client’s apps, we take a user-first approach. Leading with user-centric thinking we follow a non-linear process of discovery, guided by five principles: Empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. To put this in perspective, let’s outline a typical research process:

The first step is to ensure that you understand your audience. To do this, you need in-person contact with real potential users. When we work with a healthcare client, this means interviews and research groups. Talking to the people who will use your app not only provides a deep understanding of their needs, but also creates empathy: The material your design team needs to create an exceptional user experience.

In our Agile Design process, we use Google’s Design Sprint approach—the five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. We typically spend one week to get started with research, design and prototyping. The process breaks down like this:

  • On Monday, we hold interview sessions with healthcare professionals in order to map out the problem and pick an important place to focus.
  • On Tuesday, we sketch out competing solutions.
  • On Wednesday, we turn our ideas into a testable hypothesis.
  • On Thursday, we hammer out a low-fidelity prototype.
  • On Friday, we test it with same users from Monday's interviews.

From this, a direction for the solution emerges, optimized for the needs of your patients and their healthcare providers.

For one of our pharma clients, this type of knowledge enabled us to continue iterating and testing, so that in the later stage of the project, our design team created a fully-clickable, 138-screens design prototype for their therapeutic monitoring app. We tested the prototype with 60 users, and gathered useful feedback from healthcare professionals and patients.

We could then move forward knowing that we were building something healthcare professionals and patients actually wanted, rather than assuming their needs and waiting to test the product in-market. The best part? The process took only 2 months, and likely saved many more months of rework time for our client.

Across a number of applications that we built in collaboration with this client, we succeeded in shifting their user interfaces away from clinical and functional, to personalized and enjoyable to use. Understanding that one of the goals of your app as a healthcare company is likely to help patients form new habits, or curb less desirable behaviors, you have to make this change as gratifying as possible for the user (or at least as pleasant as can be).

The goal here is to create the app in an agile way. Instead of front-loading research before you start designing, focus instead on continuous improvement, testing early and often, and getting feedback through prototypes, proofs of concept, and testing in-market.

With this test-and-learn approach, and a focus on the user, your app can become a brand-building engine. Adoption metrics are a great near-term indicator for the success of your app, and can pave the way for better user-centricity across your organization.


To learn more about our approach to building healthcare apps, check out Improving lives with the first React Native app with CE mark.

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