Why Most Chronic Disease Management and Medication Adherence Apps Miss the Mark
November 9, 2020

When you hear the phrase “digital adherence solutions,” what comes to mind? You might immediately think of medication adherence apps that aim to help people follow their medication regimens more consistently. Or maybe you know of more broad chronic disease management apps. 

The reality is that most of these medication adherence and chronic disease management mobile applications aren’t as effective as they could be.

Let’s talk about exactly why that is and what makes Wellth different.

What patients get from most medication adherence and chronic disease management apps 

Broadly speaking, digital adherence mobile applications can be divided into two groups: medication adherence apps and chronic disease management apps. 

At their most basic level, medication adherence apps typically remind people when it’s time to take their next dose of medication. There are also more advanced apps that connect via Bluetooth to smart pill bottles and attempt to monitor medication-taking based on when a person opens the smart bottle.

Medication adherence apps aren’t few and far between. Researchers in a 2019 study by Park, et. al. found over 700 mobile apps with at least 1 of the following capabilities:

  • Sending medication alerts and reminders
  • Tracking or recording medication-taking
  • Tracking refills or reminding users to get refills
  • Storing medication regimen details

The majority of these apps had one main function—medication alerts. Of those that had two functionalities, most offered medication alerts and tracking. 

Chronic disease management apps tend to incorporate some medication-specific behaviors, but also a wider variety of disease management behaviors and, in some cases, communication with providers.

3 reasons these apps miss the mark

While it’s ideal for people to have access to tools that can help them follow their medication regimens and chronic condition care plans more closely, these apps miss the mark for what’s needed to truly ignite and sustain behavioral change in people with chronic conditions.

  1. Medication adherence apps miss the bigger picture.

In most cases, medication adherence apps are limited in scope. While consistent medication-taking is a critical component of chronic condition management, it’s not the only component. 

Especially in scenarios such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where people are unable to or are choosing not to visit healthcare providers in-person as frequently as they normally would, it’s even more important to ensure that the entire care plan is being followed. That means people with diabetes should be checking their blood sugar regularly and keeping testing supplies in stock. People with hypertension should be checking their blood pressure regularly at home.

Now more than ever, remote patient monitoring is becoming a key to helping people get and stay healthy. This level of care can’t be achieved with simple medication adherence apps. 

  1. They mainly serve people who are already somewhat involved in their disease self-management.

Making a choice to visit the app store on your smartphone and download an adherence or disease management app requires some degree of existing motivation. Actually using the app and continuing to use the app requires even more motivation.

A person who consistently uses this type of tool is likely to be someone who is already engaged in his or her own healthcare to some extent. But what about people who don’t have that baseline level of engagement? Unfortunately, these apps do little to appeal to those groups or to generate motivation to use the apps. 

And even for people who use the app once, if there is no positive feedback to promote continued use, they are less likely to persist. Therefore, the opportunity to increase engagement in overall chronic condition management is lost.

  1. They don’t take human factors into account.

At the time the Park study was conducted, 17.9% of medication adherence apps available via Apple and 33.1% of those available on Androids had only one functionality: medication alerts. Alerts, while useful in some scenarios, are primarily beneficial for people whose main issue is not remembering to take medications. If simple reminders were the key to solving medication non-adherence, non-adherence would no longer be a problem.

In reality, there are many more human factors—behavioral factors—that influence whether or not a person adheres to their medication regimen and their overall chronic condition management care plan.

How Wellth is different from other chronic condition management  tools 

Here’s the bottom line: You can create the most visually appealing, user-friendly, customizable adherence app, but if people don’t actually use it, it has no value. 

In terms of value, Wellth stands out from the pack in several notable ways:

  1. Wellth is not a medication adherence app. 

It is a digital chronic disease management tool that improves overall care plan adherence through a combination of:

  • Convenient daily check-in functionality via smartphone
  • Behavioral economics principles, powered by financial incentives
  • Empathetic support team

Wellth was designed to incorporate principles of behavioral economics into chronic disease management. These principles represent the core elements needed to establish lasting behavior change, specifically to empower members to become active participants in their own disease management.

  1. Wellth addresses the root causes of care plan non-adherence, thereby producing positive clinical outcomes.

We recognize that most people don’t aim to be non-adherent. Rather, they are human and sometimes face a variety of life scenarios. Perhaps they have competing priorities that result in disease management being shifted lower on their list of urgent matters. By acknowledging and embracing our members’ humanity, we are able to help them develop lasting, sustainable changes to improve their disease self-management habits.

As a result, our institutional partners have seen improvements in hospital readmission rates, disease markers like hemoglobin A1c, and adherence measures such as proportion of days covered.

  1. Wellth gets buy-in from even the most reluctant patients. 

Wellth offers financial incentives for completion of care plan tasks, as well as loss of incentives if tasks are missed. Through the use of financial incentives and empathy-based health coaching, Wellth reinforces positive, adherent behaviors and disincentivizes non-adherent behaviors. This approach to behavior change makes healthy habit formation more sticky—helping Wellth build habits that last far beyond the incentive period. 

Read the Wellth program summary to learn more about what makes Wellth different.