Lilly's branded app for Trulicity looks to address adherence

Some of the Trulicity app's features include medication reminders, a virtual demo of the Trulicity pen, live chats to answer questions in real-time, videos, and access to a savings card.

To have a branded app or not to have one – it's a new issue facing healthcare agencies and pharmaceutical companies as they try to figure out what types of mobile strategies work and how they can get users  to use them effectively.

Eli Lilly in March launched a free branded app for its type-2 diabetes treatment Trulicity.Trulicity made $243.6 million in revenue in the third quarter of 2016, a 70% increase from $73.7 million during the same period in 2015. The drug received FDA approval in 2014. Lilly is now marketing the app to physicians and as part of drug-sample packs, according to Juan Granados-Zuniga, Lilly's associate brand manager of consumer marketing in diabetes.

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The main objective of the app is to address issues related to medication adherence — Trulicity is taken weekly so patients can forget to take it, compared to other drugs that require daily intake. But in the months after the initial launch the drugmaker quickly realized that it needed to enhance the experience of using the app, Granados-Zuniga said.

“That's when we started building in a bunch of additional functionalities to try to connect our patients to some of our other resources,” he added. “Everything from FAQs to answering real-time questions they might have, to getting them a savings card, to watching videos on what to expect when getting them started.”

One of the app's most used features is a virtual demo that mimics a real Trulicity pen's features, functions, and sound.

“It's used in some cases as a training tool and is essentially augmented reality,” said Granados-Zuniga. “It gives you the sense of how to use the pen if you don't have the pen on you or if you're trying to learn how to use it, it's interactive.”

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It's the company's second branded app; its first branded app was for diabetes drug Glucagon. The Trulicity app has had about 2,500 downloads to date and reported 46,000 total logged sessions, which are the number of times the app is opened by users, said Granados-Zuniga.

He acknowledged that branded apps aren't necessarily suitable for all products and it can be a challenge to get users to download them since most people “only use a handful of apps on a regular basis.”

According to a 2015 survey by Makovsky/Kelton, 66% of Americans said they would use a mobile app to manage their health, with millennials more than twice as likely to use these types of apps than individuals older than 66 years old. Among the top interests for downloading apps were tracking diet and nutrition (47%), medication reminders (46%), tracking symptoms (45%), and tracking physical activity (44%).

There are two criteria key to a branded app's success, according to Brad Einarsen, director of digital insights at Klick Health: “You have to have a compelling reason to use the product, and you have to have a seamless workflow without user-intervention.”

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He points to Medtronic's app for insulin pump Minimed as an example. The app allows patients to see their pump and glucose data as they move throughout the day, and the information can be shared with family and friends. “The whole purpose of that app cannot be replicated in any other way,” he said. “It takes an automatic Medtronic system for children and puts it up in the cloud for parents to see.”

Gregory Cohen, global multichannel engagement solutions lead at UCB, agreed that there needs to be a lot of automation within the app to provide that seamless experience.

“I support the concept of it but the execution takes a lot of [assessing where] the company or product ultimately wants to live in the patient's mindset,” said Cohen. “Launching an app, you need a governance team in the space, technical support, and you need to have a product road map.”

Part of that product road map may mean working with a partner. That is why Lilly is also in discussions with potential partners, Granados-Zuniga said.

“Ideally, it would be wonderful for branded apps to live within the umbrella of a CVS or Walgreens app because my goal is not to have somebody overwhelmed by 75 different health-related apps on their phone,” said Granados-Zuniga. “We try to talk about innovative ways to integrate them into different workflows for people because we do think that it's the right thing to do, to create a better experience ultimately.”