Patient Engagement
How to Improve Digital Health Patient Engagement: User Retention
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How to improve digital health patient engagement: user retention

The Holy Grail for every app is an engaged user base, but this can be difficult for even the most popular consumer apps. Research found that, generally, 25% of users only launch an app once. And in 2020, the average retention rate decreased by 12%, reports AppsFlyer. Healthcare apps have additional struggles. Apptentive found that medical apps saw 90-day retention of 34% and annual retention of just 16% (the macro average is 35%).

Disheartening statistics like these may make user retention seem like a lost cause, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Investing in retention strategies is good business! Not only does it help patients achieve better results, it ensures the time and money you put into developing the app doesn’t go to waste because of poor adoption and retention rates.

At Vessel Partners, we specialize in leveraging academic and clinical research from the behavioral sciences to create apps that provide patients with round-the-clock support. In this second installment of our engagement series, we’ll share our advice on how to retain patients for the long haul — along with real-world examples of how we implement these strategies in our own work.

Foster patient investment through small tasks

It’s key to create a sense of investment in your users early on. Asking them to complete small tasks that not only pull them deeper into the app can help them feel more of a connection with your app. For instance, you can ask them to find another user or connect with their provider. Completing these simple tasks not only help your users get more out of the product, but also creates a sense of investment. The more time and energy your users have put into the app, the less likely they are to churn — especially if you follow up the action with an immediate reward (see below).

Use rewards to entice patients to return to the app

People are more motivated by small, immediate rewards than by big prizes further down the line. The promise of better health outcomes is not enough to get them to keep using your app — so implement a rewards strategy. After your users complete the initial onboarding tasks, give them a reward to encourage them to take the next step. This strategy is often implemented to great success in mobile games — where you can reward users with in-app currency or extra lives — but is more complex in digital health apps. However, rewards can be as small as a badge, or even just a pleasing sound, to keep users engaged. (To learn more about the psychology behind rewards and the types we often use in our apps, read our “4 Key to Behavior Change.”)

Create regular habits to keep users coming back

The ultimate goal of retention efforts is to make opening your app a regular habit — something people do without even really thinking about it — but it takes a lot of work to get there. To do this, we design apps to take advantage of the “trigger, action, reward cycle” (learn more about this cycle here). Early on, users need a prompt to remember to open your app. Depending on their preferences and your capabilities, you can use push notifications, emails, or text messages to remind users to open the app. When users take the desired action, we reward them. Eventually using the app becomes a habit that no longer requires regular prompts.

Personalize the app to make it a more rewarding experience

Apps are rich with data about how your users interact with your product. You know which features they use, and which ones they don’t. And while it might be tempting to try and push users to interact with unused features, we find that technique often backfires. When you push the features your users don’t engage with, you inadvertently train them not to use the app. Instead, allow the interface to map to your users’ individual preferences to create a more useful and engaging experience.

Retention is an ongoing process

Retention never ends! It’s an ongoing process that requires your team to pay attention to user analytics throughout the user journey. Pay close attention to your data to understand where patients are exiting your app, which steps or features are causing churn, or at which step in their care they tend to lapse. When you know this, you can not only tweak the app to fix these bottlenecks but reach out to your users to re-engage them. Using the same methods you used early on to trigger a response — text, email, push notifications, etc. — you can remind patients of your value and start the process of engaging them all over again.

To learn more about how Vessel Partners can help you create a more engaging user experience to provide better health outcomes for your patients, contact us.

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