18th January 2024.

In today’s digital landscape, the emergence of mobile phone apps has transformed how we manage many aspects of our daily lives, including healthcare. In a recent Health Survey for England, it was reported that approximately 6 in 10 adults in England use or have used a health app or wearable to monitor their health, indicating a growing trend in uptake.

However, as the number of health-related apps continues to surge, users are experiencing what is commonly referred to as “app fatigue”. This phenomenon arises from the overwhelming abundance of applications available, leading to disengagement, reduced usage, and difficulty in navigating the sea of options.

The rise of the health app

Health and wellness apps and devices have revolutionised how people monitor their fitness and vitals, manage chronic conditions, and access their medical information. They offer a vast range of features, from symptom checkers and medication reminders to exercise tracking and mental health support. 60% more GPs in the UK have recommended digital health apps to their patients this year, in comparison to last year.

As a result of the widespread adoption of this technology, the market has grown and grown, and the market is now saturated with endless options which has presented challenges in standing out for developers. There are currently a massive 227,500 health apps available in the UK, but research suggests that 85% have less than 5,000 downloads in total, and only 84 individual apps have been downloaded more than 10m times.

The challenges of app fatigue

The wealth of healthcare apps can be overwhelming, making it challenging to identify the most suitable or reliable ones for specific needs by causing a choice overload. Studies conducted by mobile analytics companies have suggested that the average smartphone user installs and regularly uses only a limited number of apps, despite the vast number that are available for download. The majority tend to stick to a core set of apps for their daily activities, contributing to app fatigue as users become less inclined to explore new ones.

People often feel pressure to download multiple apps that are advertised or recommended by their clinician but ultimately only use a few consistently, leading to disengagement and abandonment. Research indicates that a significant percentage of users uninstall apps within days or weeks of downloading them. This lack of sustained engagement and high uninstall rates show how people can continuously cycle through applications, seeking the most useful and relevant ones but to no avail.

Many apps tend to only offer a one-size-fits-all approach which does not cater to individual preferences and health goals, or specific medical conditions. Patients can therefore find it difficult to differentiate between apps offering nearly identical services and very similar functionality, leading to redundancy and a disappointing patient experience.

Complex interfaces or too many features can also confuse and overwhelm patients and result in them losing interest or motivation to engage. It is often seen that the preference is for apps that are intuitive, simple to use, and offer immediate value or solve a specific problem. Lastly, the general public are becoming more and more wary of sharing sensitive data, especially across multiple apps and devices, due to concerns about privacy and security breaches, leading them to be cautious and selective about which apps they trust.

What’s the impact?

Reduced Efficacy: Patients may not derive the full benefits of healthcare apps due to decreased engagement, affecting their ability to manage their health conditions or concerns effectively.

Wasted Resources: NHS organisations and their peers invest time and resources into creating apps that might not sustain user engagement, leading to wasted efforts and resources.

Healthcare discontinuity: For those who are managing chronic conditions or relying on health apps for their care, disengagement can disrupt this and dramatically affect health outcomes.

Unreliable advice: According to recent research shared in Digital Health, amongst those surveyed who selected a health app for themselves rather than as a recommendation from a clinician, 0% checked its clinical credentials prior to using it.

Not to say apps don’t have their benefits

Promisingly, 83% of people who have used a health app found it actively helped to improve their health and wellbeing. There is an increasing interest in mental health apps offering features such as meditation, stress management, and mood tracking that cater to people seeking support for mental well-being and stress relief. Research commissioned by ORCHA found that people aged from 18 to 44 would choose digital health to support a mental health condition over and above prescription medication, such as an antidepressant. Pregnancy is another area where digital health has enabled easy access to a wealth of information and support right at patient’s fingertips at a time when they are experiencing lots of changes and potentially worrying symptoms, such as tracking fetal development, invaluable educational resources, community support and tips for wellbeing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were forced to turn to digital health to access support with their health concerns and conditions, and patients became familiar with the use of virtual consultation apps, allowing them to access healthcare services, appointments, and much more from the safety of their homes. The adoption of virtual care is ongoing even post-pandemic, as the benefits and convenience are still appropriate for many circumstances.

In recent years there has been a sharp rise in the usage of apps designed to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and other long-term health conditions. For example, managing diabetes requires constant vigilance, lifestyle adjustments, and support tools that can fit seamlessly into daily life. In the UK, where a significant portion of the population lives with this condition, innovative apps have emerged as invaluable companions, from tracking blood glucose levels and food intake to providing educational resources and support networks, empowering people to make informed decisions about their health.

A new way to interact

Rich Communication Services (RCS) and other future messaging channels represent a transformative shift in how organisations can engage patients in exciting ways without the need for more downloading. Next-gen communication platforms provide an app-like experience directly within native messaging apps on smartphones in a format that people are already familiar with, enabling healthcare organisations to meet patients at their channel of choice.

By integrating advanced features such as verified senders, branding, imagery, read receipts, and interactive elements like suggested actions and buttons, RCS delivers a richer messaging experience that can be personalised to individual needs, symptoms and conditions.

Unlike traditional apps that require installation and updates, RCS offers an instant, seamless experience by harnessing the capabilities already present within their default messaging channel. This evolution holds the key to bridging the gap between app functionality and messaging, and enhancing convenience by providing support in a place that people are already accessing every day.

Prioritising needs with personalisation

As the healthcare industry increasingly leans toward digital solutions, app fatigue presents a significant challenge and navigating the landscape amidst the overload of platforms becomes crucial. The key lies in streamlining offerings, emphasising personalisation, and making sure that the content and features are valuable and easy to use.

Meeting patients at their channel of choice through RCS can encourage sustained patient engagement, by providing meaningful and convenient communications that support people in their health and wellbeing journeys, and play a pivotal role in improving quality of life for those living with long-term conditions.

Empowering patients to take control of their health is crucial, and enabling them to easily and conveniently communicate with their care team can help make that happen. Healthcare Communications and Webex by Cisco are committed to transforming patient communications with our proactive digital platform and an omnichannel approach, in order to cut costs, improve operational efficiency, and increase patient experience through one and two-way messaging and integration with NHS software.