Annual Check-up: mHealth Apps are Still in Critical Condition – Part III: Misleading Functionality Descriptions in App Stores

In Part II of this series, Limited Functionality for mHealth App Features, we described the different types of functionalities implemented in the mHealth apps assessed and found that significant shortcomings still exist in the mHealth app development market. After downloading the apps and analyzing them, it became clear that the functionalities promoted in the app descriptions – whether in iOS or Google Play – are treated equally whether the feature is delivered in the app, linked out to a browser or requires a login to the health provider’s patient portal. This represents the first opportunity the patient has to form and establish expectations about what they will be able to do with the mobile app. By listing all features without making any distinction as to whether a feature is available to all users or only existing patients (ie: require the user to have a registered login), there is a certain level of over-statement present in the app descriptions that might mislead users and establish false expectations.

In the example above, the patient would expect to be able to use all of the features listed after downloading the app. However, in reality, the features are more adequately described by the following table:

In App Integrated, In App Not Integrated, Browser Embedded, Linked out. Messaging, Physician Directory, Wait Times, Lab Results, Health Summaries, Rx Refill, Bill Pay,Directions/Locations, Virtual Care

What this means is that while the patient expects to be able to use and access all of the features listed in the app description, they are completely unaware that they will need to download 2 additional apps and that 1 feature will just redirect them to the hospital’s patient portal and/or payment gateway through the mobile phone’s web browser. This drastic departure from the expectations formed when the patient first downloads the mobile app can quickly transform what could have been a very positive and engaging patient experience into a cumbersome and tedious exercise far removed from the expectations formed based on the app store description.

Hospitals and care delivery networks are slowly but surely transitioning into the digital and mobile world of today’s consumerist economy. While it is new for the healthcare industry, to a certain degree, it is not new and in fact is an unconsciously integrated part of a patient’s day-to-day life. In mHealth app development, healthcare providers make clear decisions that balance their technical team’s capacity in terms of time, their abilities to implement, and the user experience. However, these variables do not necessarily have a positive correlation and often times have strong negative relationships. The graphic below represents a description of how the mHealth apps assessed in this series of articles align in terms of creating a great user experience versus implementing features in as simple a way as possible for the technical team developing the app.

The graph above shows a clustering of almost 50% of the apps evaluated around easy to implement, poor-user experience features. This does not necessarily apply to every health system and app evaluated. A small group of forward-thinking health systems are implementing complex features with high scores on user experience. However, the proportion of health systems evaluated that fall into this cluster is worth noting.

What is clear from the data we have collected is that in the mHealth app development market, healthcare systems are consistently prioritizing ease of implementation over the user experience. This focus diminishes the utility of the mobile app for the patient and reduces the effectiveness of the mHealth app as a vehicle for increased patient engagement and fails to create a positive patient experience. As healthcare continues to incorporate consumer-driven dynamics, what some health systems may have originally seen as a time or cost savings in their mHealth app development may soon translate into significant losses in revenue – Accenture reported in their 2015 report Losing Patience: Why Healthcare Providers Need to Up Their Mobile Game that approximately 7% of patients had reported switching providers due to a poor customer experience. The report goes on to indicate that this level of switching could translate into losses of $100 Million per year per hospital. As merger and acquisition activity continues in the healthcare sector, the importance and challenge of creating a unified brand experience for patients across the entire care delivery network will only continue to grow.


You are reading Part III: Misleading Functionality Descriptions in App Stores of  the series “Annual Check-up: mHealth Apps are Still in Critical Condition.” Read the other parts here:

Part I: Healthcare App Development Market is Not Meeting Patient Needs

Part II: Limited Functionality for mHealth App Features

Part IV: Core Features Are Still Missing from mHealth Apps for Hospitals and Health Systems

Part V: Summary Report of Health System App Development Progress

As Director of Business Development, Michael is passionate about helping healthcare systems successfully transition to value-based care.

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