Best Ways To Retain Your Digital Health App Users

Mansha Kapoor
October 16, 2023

The mobile health and wellness landscape is booming, with a vast number of apps being downloaded daily. But, despite the initial enthusiasm, a surprising number of these apps still need to catch up in active users over time. The Journal of Medical Internet Research reveals a stark figure: nearly 46% of health app downloaders discontinue use, often due to burdensome initiation processes, concealed costs, and dwindling interest.

This exodus of users is more than just a blip on the radar; it can be a severe setback for businesses that thrive on repeat engagement. As Brian Balfour, Founder/CEO of Reforge, rightly stated, “If your retention is poor, then nothing else matters.” In an increasingly competitive healthtech arena, with over 52,000 apps vying for user attention, retaining users is more paramount than ever.

An insightful yet often overlooked factor is the value proposition for users, particularly those with chronic illnesses. An eye-opening study found that patients with chronic conditions struggled to navigate some of the most popular health apps, indicating a significant usability gap. 

So, what's the key to bucking this trend? Start by tuning into the heartbeat of your target audience. Understand their unique needs, preferences, and pain points. For established brands, this means diving deep into conversations with their most devoted users. But it doesn't stop there. Embracing popular retention strategies such as personalized user experiences, gamified challenges, and proactive engagement can transform an app from just another icon on a user's screen to a valued daily companion.

In the coming sections, we'll delve deeper into tried-and-tested strategies that can breathe new life into your health app, ensuring initial downloads and sustained user engagement. Prepare to pivot from mere ideas to impactful user experiences. 

Why is the retention of health app users necessary?

Acquiring a new user is essential, but retaining an existing one is more critical and more complex. Efforts to retain users are often shoddy, though the cost of retaining a user is way lesser than acquiring a new one. 

The Healthcare industry is founded on trust. With myriad options available, customers can only be encouraged to trust digital apps by empowering them to take control of their health and providing tailored services. 

Customer loyalty is the linchpin to strategizing a health app retention plan. Earning customer loyalty means nurturing solid and meaningful connections with your users. It can only be achieved by satisfying and delivering value to the user at every touch point.  

User retention is a paramount metric in assessing the performance and longevity of health apps. A high retention rate signifies sustained user engagement and opens up opportunities for enhanced monetization. Developers can identify crucial junctures when users disengage by analyzing retention over specific time frames, such as 30 days. For instance, in the gaming industry, the close of the onboarding period is critical, while in e-commerce, the time of purchase might be pivotal. Tailoring interventions around these points can elongate a user's lifetime value (LTV).

However, it's essential to contextualize retention benchmarks based on the app's category. While a travel app might experience high attrition after immediate use, it's typical and shouldn't ring alarm bells. Conversely, for health apps, sustained use could indicate consistent health monitoring or habit formation, making retention all the more critical.

To optimize user retention, health app developers must strike a balance between acquiring new users and retaining existing ones. Leveraging data-driven insights can amplify an app's return on investment (ROI), ensuring that users continue to derive value, leading to long-term app success. 

The long and short of it all is that Healthcare transcends signs, symptoms, and treatments. A meaningful relationship with your customers and prompt fulfillment of their needs with the right message at the right moment is essential. Gaining their trust and maintaining transparency is imperative for continuous and sustained outcomes.

Following could be ways to maintain and sustain the retention of health app users: 

1. Optimize the Onboarding Process

An optimized onboarding process is pivotal for the retention of health app users. Such procedures familiarize users with app features, boost feature adoption, and enhance app retention and monthly active users (MAU). Three prominent onboarding strategies tailored to achieve these outcomes include:

  • Function-Oriented Onboarding: This method educates users on executing specific tasks within the app. Typically manifesting as a slide carousel or an in-app tour, it guides users through core features. Emphasizing interaction requires users to swipe slides, tap on features, or practice certain gestures to maximize engagement.
  • Benefits-Oriented Onboarding: Prioritizing the "why" over the "how," this strategy underlines the app’s value. For instance, an app might highlight a particular feature's benefits without necessarily instructing on its usage. This approach ignites user excitement and fosters emotional investment, potentially increasing loyalty and engagement. Additionally, it can be tailored to collect user data for a more personalized experience, much like the MyFitnessPal app.
  • Progressive Onboarding: Offering flexibility, this strategy provides users with relevant information as they navigate the app. Suitable for complex apps with varied features or processes, it ensures users receive guidance when needed most, ensuring a smooth user journey.

2. Leverage Gamification to Boost Engagement

Gamification in health apps uses game design elements to enhance user engagement, motivation, and problem-solving. It is deeply rooted in human psychology, leveraging competition and reward systems to stimulate interest. In the realm of healthcare, gamification proves vital for numerous reasons:

  • Enhanced Engagement: By incorporating game mechanics such as points, badges, and leaderboards, users are compelled to interact frequently with health apps out of curiosity, competition, and the desire for achievement. Gamification elements, including mini-games and opinion polls, can be used to understand the users better, encouraging them to come back to your app regularly to track their progress. 
  • Promotion of Healthy Behaviors: Gamified health apps transform mundane health routines, like diet tracking or medication adherence, into enjoyable tasks. This transformation of routine tasks makes users more likely to adopt positive health behaviors.
  • Educational Value: Gamified health apps serve as interactive educators, offering quizzes and challenges that raise awareness and empower users with the necessary knowledge.
  • Treatment Adherence: By making treatment plans feel like intriguing quests, users are more motivated to stick to them. Progress dashboards offer real-time visuals, aiding users in recognizing areas of improvement.
  • Data Collection: Gamified apps become a rich real-time data source, from symptom progression to dietary habits. This data can be invaluable for healthcare providers, enabling personalized care and early detection of potential issues.
  • Stress Reduction: Making health management playful can ease the associated stress and anxiety. Gamified health apps thus provide a comforting, interactive way to handle health challenges, leading to higher user retention.

3. Personalization

Personalization is pivotal in retaining health app users in our evolving wellness landscape. This approach, driven by an individual's clinical data, preferences, and health objectives, reshapes diet, exercise, and stress management guidance. As the medical community concurs, there's no universal solution for issues like obesity and diabetes. With the advent of epigenetics, we've learned that behaviors, encompassing dietary and lifestyle choices, play a more crucial role than our static genetic makeup. This realization has sparked a surge in personalized health apps, offering tailored diet and exercise solutions derived from a user's unique characteristics. 

The market is now brimming with innovations, from custom meal planners to shopper-specific grocery lists. Wearable tech giants like Apple and FitBit are pioneering the journey to unveil the “quantifiable self, showcasing how myriad health metrics can be captured and scrutinized in real-time. As with nutrition, the fitness realm recognizes the inadequacy of a generic regimen. Users seek routines tailored to their abilities, schedules, and distinct body types. Personalized fitness is not just a trend but a necessity, offering every user a bespoke pathway to health. 

Research indicates that messages customized for the user are often more effective. Specifically, such tailored messages capture and retain attention and are more likely to be remembered and discussed with others. They are perceived as directly relevant to the individual instead of generic, untailored communications.

4. Analytics and Segmentation

In a marketing strategy to retain and engage users on health apps, it's vital to delve deep into their behaviors and needs. Analytics sheds light on user behavior, revealing insights about their health issues, medication schedules, and symptoms. Segmentation, on the other hand, groups users based on these behaviors, enabling tailored interactions. 

Health apps can send personalized alerts and messages that resonate with users by employing analytics and segmentation. The key to understanding retention is deciphering churn rates and reasons. Two pivotal customer retention analytical tools are periodic and retrospective analytics. While the former provides a timeline of user engagement with the product, the latter gives insights into when and why users decide to leave.

A beneficial tool is cohort analysis, which examines behaviors within segments, shedding light on product usage lifespan and pinpointing components prone to churning. Furthermore, customer maturity scores offer a glimpse into users' readiness to extract value from the app, hinting at potential churn risks without proper support. Lastly, a user's global health score, reflecting the depth and frequency of product usage, acts as a gauge to determine engaged users ("healthy") versus those on the brink of churning.

5. In-App Messages and Push Notifications

Push notifications and in-app messages are pivotal in retaining health app users. Acting as a direct line of communication, they remind users of the app's value and prompt timely engagement. Their ability to be triggered based on various user activities has become an indispensable communication channel for many app developers. A study by WebEngage highlighted that push messages could enhance an app's open rate by approximately 26% and amplify the retention rate by nearly 92%.

In healthcare, these notifications boost app traffic and encourage users to take in-app actions. For instance, a fitness app might use push notifications to remind users to log their daily exercises, ensuring consistent user engagement. Another compelling feature is the ability of these notifications to support rich multimedia content—be it videos, images, or even coupons, offering a dynamic user experience. 

Unlike traditional SMS, in-app messages are cost-effective, provide richer data insights, and allow branding opportunities, solidifying their position as the future of business communication. In essence, push notifications and in-app messages are invaluable tools for health apps aiming at sustained user engagement and growth. 

6. Use push notifications strategically

Push notifications are a powerful tool for retaining health app users when used judiciously. They can serve as timely nudges, prompting users to interact with your app at opportune times. For instance, reminding a user to log their post-dinner calories or undertake their nightly meditation. However, striking a balance is vital. A 2021 study revealed that 39% of users disabled app notifications due to excessive alerts, while 8% uninstalled the app.

To harness the potential of push notifications, it's crucial to:

  • Personalize Notification Timing: Tailor them based on user activity and optimal opening rates.
  • Avoid Spamming: Excess notifications can be counterproductive.
  • A/B Test Messages: Fine-tune the content for better engagement.
  • Use Comprehensive Metrics: Beyond retention, metrics like Active App Users, Goal Completion, and Average Lifetime Revenue offer insights into user engagement and app success.

For health apps, tracking Goal Completion can be particularly insightful. Whether achieving a fitness milestone or adhering to a dietary plan, understanding user goals can amplify engagement. 

7. Be clear about cost

To retain users when transitioning to a paid model, healthcare app developers must communicate the value proposition, benefits, and features that justify the cost. Offering a competitive advantage over free alternatives and ensuring a positive user experience can also significantly encourage users to continue using the app despite the fees. 

  • Cost Concerns: One of the most straightforward reasons is that people may want to avoid paying for a service they can access elsewhere for free. Healthcare costs are already a concern for many, and if they can find similar information or services without paying, they may opt to do so.
  • Perceived Value: Users often evaluate whether the benefits of a paid healthcare app justify its cost. If they don't see a significant added value in comparison to free alternatives, they might not be willing to pay for it.
  • Competing Priorities: People with limited financial resources may prioritize other expenses over healthcare app subscriptions. If they have different pressing financial needs, they might not be able or willing to allocate funds for a healthcare app.
  • Availability of Alternatives: The digital landscape includes healthcare information and resources, including free apps, websites, and online communities. Users who find similar information or services without cost might forego the paid app.
  • Lack of Transparency: If the healthcare app doesn't clearly communicate the benefits of its paid features, users will remain confused about payment and services. A lack of transparency can lead to skepticism and reluctance to pay.
  • Initial Expectations: If users initially downloaded the app for free, they might have formed an expectation that it would remain free. Transitioning from a free model to a paid one can result in disappointment and attrition.
  • Limited Budgets: Healthcare apps might compete with a wide range of other subscription services for users' limited budgets. In such cases, users might choose to cancel or not renew a healthcare app subscription to prioritize other subscriptions.
  • Trial Periods: Some users might have started using the app during a free trial period. Once the trial ends and they're asked to pay, they might need to be convinced that the app is worth the cost.
  • Frequency of Use: Users need to use the app frequently to see the value in paying for a service they use infrequently. This clarity is particularly relevant for apps that are used sporadically.
  • User Experience: If the app has usability issues, technical glitches, or a poor user interface, users might not find it worth paying for, regardless of the content or features offered.
  • Trust and Credibility: Some users might have concerns about the credibility of the information or advice the app provides, especially if they must pay for it. This doubt can impact their willingness to subscribe.
  • Privacy and Security: If the app collects sensitive health data, users might have concerns about privacy and security. They might be more hesitant to pay for a service that requires sharing personal health information.

8. Security and Privacy

Maintaining security and privacy is paramount for health apps due to the deeply personal and sensitive nature of the data they handle. Users trust these applications with intimate details about their health, ranging from medical histories to daily habits and physical statistics. Breach of trust jeopardizes an individual's privacy and can lead to data misuse, discrimination, and even fraud.

The consequences of lax security can be severe for the user and the service provider. Public disclosure of private health information can lead to stigma, increased insurance premiums, job discrimination, and emotional distress for the user. For the service provider, a breach can result in loss of trust, legal ramifications, financial penalties, and significant damage to their reputation.

Furthermore, in a competitive market, trust becomes a significant differentiator. Users are more likely to abandon a health app or service if they are apprehensive of data theft. Therefore, to retain and grow a user base, health app developers must prioritize and continuously invest in security and privacy measures, ensuring they meet and exceed user expectations and regulatory standards. A survey by Change Healthcare found that 50% of respondents felt security and privacy concerns were a prime deterrent to the widespread adoption of mHealth tools. Keeping data secure is highly essential, especially if your app connects with medical professionals.

The first step is to ensure regulatory compliance. You must meet regional compliance standards if your app processes or stores sensitive health data, such as medical history, prescription lists, or health insurance history. Compliances include HIPAA and HITECH. Other measures for securing data include enabling multi-factor authentication, implementing secure information transfers, and examining your app for any security vulnerabilities hackers could exploit. 

9. Incorporate Smartwatch and Smartphone technology

Smartphone and smartwatch technology is revolutionizing patient healthcare by facilitating real-time data transmission. These wearables provide flexible, bidirectional communication, enabling dynamic interactions tailored to individual needs. With sensors that monitor physical activity, sleep patterns, heart rate, calories burned, and even blood oxygen levels, smartwatches play a pivotal role in health monitoring. Advanced models can detect atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm linked to stroke, thereby enhancing preventive care. The rising popularity of wearables ensures continuous monitoring, offering valuable insights into user well-being. 

These devices are not just trackers; they encourage users to stay active with features like short workouts, activity-tracking apps, and personalized workouts on demand. Moreover, they play a crucial role in medication adherence, allowing users to set dose reminders. Beyond tracking physical activity, they offer dietary monitoring tools, making calorie counting and meal planning effortless. Early disease detection capabilities contribute to reduced healthcare costs by facilitating timely interventions. Smartwatches and smartphones enhance user engagement by providing actionable data and versatile health and fitness tools, making them indispensable for health-conscious individuals. 

10. Regular Updation of Apps

Regular updates of health apps play a crucial role in retaining users. With the dynamic evolution of medical research and wellness trends, updates ensure that the app remains current, providing users with the latest and most accurate health information. This on-time, in-time approach boosts users' confidence in the app as a reliable health companion. Secondly, regular updates address bugs and technical glitches, ensuring smooth app functionality and enhancing the user experience. Improved features, based on user feedback, can be introduced through updates, ensuring that the app continuously adapts to the needs of its users.

Furthermore, updates can introduce new features or content to sync with the latest technological developments, rejuvenating interest among existing users and attracting new ones. This consistent novelty prevents app staleness and keeps users engaged. Lastly, when users see that an app is frequently updated, it signals an ongoing commitment from the developers, fostering trust and encouraging long-term usage. Regular updates reflect an app's adaptability, reliability, and commitment to user satisfaction, all crucial for retaining health app users. 

Final Words

In the times when digital health solutions are at our fingertips, retaining users of health apps has become crucial for developers and healthcare providers alike. The dynamic range of available apps, from 'Doctor on Demand' offering video consultations to the niche 'EyeCare Live' that deals specifically with ocular conditions, highlights the diversification in this sector. Yet, regardless of the app's primary function, certain underlying strategies are universally applicable. Prioritizing user experience, ensuring data privacy, as seen in 'Microsoft Health Vault,' and providing consistent value are just a few ways to keep users engaged. Additionally, fostering community and support, like 'Better Health' does with its group webinars and community features, can create a sense of belonging for users. Developers must also be aware of the competitive landscape to innovate and adapt continuously. By learning from successful models, integrating feedback, and staying updated with medical and tech advancements, health apps can ensure they remain relevant and indispensable in their users' health journeys.

Mahalo Health stands as a preferred digital health platform due to its unwavering commitment to user-centric healthcare solutions. With a user-friendly interface, cutting-edge features, and a robust support system, Mahalo enhances patient engagement and encourages adherence to treatment plans. Its data-driven insights empower healthcare providers to deliver personalized care, leading to better patient outcomes. Mahalo's seamless integration of technology into healthcare makes it a trusted choice for both providers and patients seeking efficient, effective, and reliable digital health solutions.

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