8 Ways to Retain Your Healthcare Mobile App Users

Woman wearing fitness outfit and ear buds, smiling while using her smartphone

Health and wellness mobile applications have some of the highest rates of download, but a high percentage of them struggle to retain active users over time. A study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research found nearly 46% of people who download health apps quit using them, mainly due to high entry burden, hidden fees, and loss of interest.

So what can you do to prolong the usage of your mHealth app and generate loyalty?

Related content: 5 Emerging Trends in mHealth


Consult your stakeholders

This is the single most important thing you can do. You may have the best mHealth app idea ever, but if you don’t find out how people want to interact with your app, your great idea will stay just that - an idea.

Or worse, you’ll spend loads of time, energy, and money developing something almost half of downloaders will stop using soon afterwards.

Health apps have the potential to be of great value to people with chronic illnesses, yet apps are often developed without their specific needs in mind. One study observed 26 patients with chronic illnesses as they used 11 of the most popular apps, and found the patients could only complete a minority of the tasks without assistance.

So get out there and uncover out what your audience wants and how they want to use it. If you’re a well-established brand, ask your most loyal followers what they want out of your app.

Already have an app? Ask users what they like about it and how you can craft a better mobile experience for them.

Related content: How Does User Testing Improve Quality and Reduce Business Risk?


If you’re looking for the voice of the customer, check out app store reviews, too. Notice any common complaints? Act on them! If 1,001 reviews say I wish the app did x, y or z, then find a way to do x, y, and z. Taking users views into account, and actually acting on them is a surefire way to build brand loyalty.

Creating an app for a medical practice? Ask patients how they want to use the app when they visit the office. What features will make their lives easier? If your app connects multiple audiences, like doctors and patients, make sure it works well for both parties, as those solutions may sometimes be at odds.

If you can’t interview your stakeholders directly, survey them remotely. Curated carefully, surveys provide wonderful and highly-actionable insights. 

Ground your app in psychology

If your app encourages people to maintain healthy habits, it’s a good idea to read up on behavioral psychology, the study of the connection between our brains and our behavior.

Based on research in the field, for instance, reinforcing healthy behaviors in a positive way, or by positive reinforcement, is a proven way to increase engagement.

Offer positive feedback when a user completes a task. Personalized, motivation messages are a great way to reinforce good behavior. Positive reinforcement boosts those warm fuzzy feelings of accomplishing a goal, and when we feel good about doing something, we are more likely to keep doing it.

Allowing users to share updates through social media is another way to encourage and reinforce habits. By sharing goal progression with friends and family, users build support that extends outside the app.

Gamification is also based in psychology. Turning tasks into a game plays into our natural desires for collaboration, competition, and recognition.

We as humans love to set goals, complete challenges and feel accomplished. Gamification, when set up as a live competition, also fosters a sense of community. Whatever health challenges the user is facing, he or she won’t feel like they’re tackling them alone.

Gamification also plays into the concept of loss aversion, which, simply put, is our desire not to lose things we own.

For instance, if you set a personal record for the most days in a row completing a healthy habit, it is likely that you will keep “playing” to try to continue the streak because of your desire not to lose.

The concept was coined by Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.  Our aversion to loss is so strong that we are more concerned with avoiding loss than seeking out gains. In other words, losses hurt almost twice as much as gains make us feel good.

By understanding a little more about how human behavior, you can build the features needed to retain users in a mobile environment.

Be clear about cost

When asked why they stopped using a health app, 36.1% of people cited hidden or unexpected costs. The simple way to move past this is to make clear distinctions between what is free and what features require payment.

Not all users are against paying for an app. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, 43% of adults are willing to pay up to $5.99 for a health app that makes a positive difference in their lives.

It’s frustrating to download a free app, only to discover a monthly payment is required to utilize any of the features. Be honest with your potential users, as no one likes surprise fees.

Keep your users’ data secure

In today’s world, it seems like data breaches are happening left and right. As a result, consumers are more protective over who has access to their data, especially when it comes to private health information.

A survey by Change Healthcare found that 50% of respondents felt security and privacy concerns were a major barrier to widespread adoption of mHealth tools. Keeping data secure is of incredible importance, especially if your app connects with medical professionals.

The first step is to ensure regulatory compliance. If your app processes or stores sensitive health data, such as medical history, prescription lists, or health insurance history, you must meet regional compliance standards. This includes HIPAA and HITECH.

Other steps to securing data include enabling multi-factor authentication, implementing secure information transfers, and examining your app for any security vulnerabilities hackers could exploit.

It’s a good idea to run regular vulnerability tests to check for bugs and loopholes, too.

Not only are these best practices for any digital property, but they are also great ways to utilize thoughtful user interface elements to show your users that you care about their security. 

Related content: GDPR: How Will it Affect My U.S. Organization?


Incorporate smartwatch technology

NPD Group expects smartwatch ownership to increase by 60% from Q2 2017 through Q4 2018. This growth will lead to nearly 15% of US consumers aged 18+ owning a smartwatch by 2019.

On a daily basis, 54% of smartwatch owners use notifications and 45% use activity tracking features.

Now is the time to build an app that works with smartwatches, or to modify your existing smartphone app to collaborate with wearable technology.

Apple recognizes that users of the Apple watch desire tools to help them live a healthier lifestyle. A prominent feature of the new Apple watch is its ability to conduct an ECG and then share their data with a doctor.

Even if it’s simply allowing smartwatches to share data with your app, it makes for a more seamless integration into the user’s life. It also saves your user time by reducing the need to manually input data.

Update your app regularly

If you want people to keep using your app, you need to keep everything running smoothly. Take care of any reported bugs promptly. If a new operating system or hardware series is released, ensure that your app is compatible as soon as possible.

How often should you update? It depends.

There is no definitive answer or best time to update an app, so you must determine what the right time is for you.

For some, like Pinterest, it could be on a weekly schedule. Others rarely update unless they’re releasing a major new feature. For you, perhaps it’s when your team discovers a bug. Whenever it is, make sure you have a plan in place to activate the relevant resources and share your product improvements with your users. 

Amp up your marketing strategy

Creating a marketing campaign around your mobile app is a key step to increasing app downloads. Recently, we created a list of 44 ways you can promote your new mobile app. Key tactics include:

  • App Store Optimization
  • Press Releases
  • Website Promotion

And plenty of additional tactics you can easily incorporate into your larger marketing strategies. Consider it your guide to boosting downloads, and (if you keep up with the tips above), loyal users!

Refresh your brand

Are you struggling to capture consumers’ attention? Your brand’s messaging may not be resonating with your target audience.

There are several ways you can give your health and wellness brand a boost. Brand storytelling, an intuitive web presence, social media, and email newsletters are great places to start making changes. If you effectively execute those four strategies, you can be sure your brand will stand out amongst the competition.

Bundling it all up

There’s plenty you can do to build loyalty among health app users. To summarize:

  • Consult your stakeholders
  • Ground your app in psychology
  • Be clear about cost
  • Keep your users’ data secure
  • Incorporate smartwatch technology
  • Update your app regularly
  • Amp up your marketing strategy
  • Refresh your brand

And there you have it, eight highly-actionable ways to keep your mobile health app users engaged.

Need a hand getting started with these tactics or looking for help developing a new app idea? Give us a shout. Our expert marketers, software developers, designers, and user experience architects can assist with all of your digital needs.