This article was originally posted on forbes.com
Looking at the world from an economic perspective, there are winners and losers in any crisis. COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to many sectors and the app economy isn’t immune. Travel, hospitality, and ride-sharing have all been profoundly negatively affected by the lack of travel and normal daily activity. Winners in the global pandemic are just as easily identified: videoconferencing, collaboration software, streaming entertainment, fitness and wellness, as well as health and medical have seen booms in recent months.
Apps are serving us all differently during this time. While we use them for varying reasons and segments are being impacted differently, there’s no doubt that people are spending more time on apps amid global lockdowns and lack of physical freedoms. It’s reported that app usage has surged 40% during the pandemic, reaching an all-time high of over 200 billion hours during April 2020. While this a global trend, stats in individual countries vary. In India, for example, time spent in apps grew 35% in Q2 2020 from Q4 2019. Italy and Indonesia saw growth of 30% and 25%, respectively. In the U.S., time spent in apps grew 15%. In the second quarter, consumers spent a record $27 billion in apps, up 15% year-over-year and up 25% to $10 billion on Android.
Discovering the right app at the right time is essential in our connected world: it is the key to well-being, education, social, transportation, travel, fun, and everything in between. Some apps are utilitarian, helping us navigate life digitally. Other apps fill that void of human connection that we all so desperately need. For some, apps might simply help pass the time or help meet unmet goals. Why not get fit during COVID or at least exercise to relieve stress and experience some normalcy? Healthcare apps, when user-friendly and effective, tick all the boxes, helping us emotionally and physically.
More time spent inside and the need to manage nearly every aspect of our lives, including our physical and mental health, online has spurred use of medical, wellness and fitness apps. As gyms shut down and people were forced to isolate inside, everything from audio-only yoga apps to real-time competitive cycling to fitness tracking, have seen explosive growth during coronavirus. As anyone who tried to buy a stationary bike in March and April knows, the demand for indoor sports equipment was tremendous. Quarterly sales for high-end indoor bike maker Peloton surged 66%, despite shipping delays, the bike’s $2,000-plus price tag, and a hefty monthly fee for its namesake app.
Just as consumers have turned to the internet for fitness solutions, wellness apps have surged as consumers look to manage the stress and sadness caused by the health crisis. Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, has seen up to a 90% increase in time spent on mobile devices in the U.S. during the week of March 1st, week over week. Whether seen as opportunistic or philanthropic, Headspace is embracing consumers with specialized services. In early April, the company introduced a section just for New Yorkers and is offering all U.S. healthcare professionals who have a National Provider Identifier (NPI) free access to Headspace Plus throughout 2020. Meditations, including some designed specifically for kids, sleep experiences featuring music and soundscapes, as well as educator resources are all available.
The sector’s top app, meditation and sleep app, Calm, had 3.9 million downloads in April, followed by Headspace with 1.5 million downloads. It’s interesting to note that U.S. healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente has added Calm to its digital self-care portfolio, where members can now download the app at no cost.
It’s easy to understand the meteoric rise of fitness and wellness apps during COVID-19. Telemedicine, otherwise known as telehealth, digital health, eHealth, and any of its other names, has existed for decades, but public acceptance has been slow. Over the last five years, it has come into the spotlight in the United States as well as other countries, accelerated by a host of factors that pre-date the pandemic.
India, like the United States, faces a crippling physician shortage, with only 150,000 medical specialists serving nearly a billion citizens. Similar to China and the United States, access to an Indian physician can be time-consuming and prohibitively costly for patients residing outside urban areas. A recent report estimates that the physician shortage in the U.S. will result in shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. Many patients are routinely forced to wait to see their physician, a trend which is likely to continue. A recent survey of physician wait times in the United States found the average wait time for a new patient to see a physician in 15 metropolitan areas has increased 30% since 2014. This statistic includes an average wait time of over two months to get a physical in Boston, a month to get a heart evaluation in Washington, and one month for a skin exam anywhere in the nation. Couple statistics like these with the global pandemic and telemedicine’s time has come.
The medical community is recognizing and now publicizing the potential of telehealth. It’s estimated that approximately 70% of all health problems can be handled online. Pre-pandemic, telehealth was gaining favor with medical facilities as a cost saver. Now it’s become a necessity to protect both healthcare workers and patients. The global health crisis has provided a proving ground for telehealth as consumers adopt it on a much broader scale as they’re forced to seek medical treatment online.
During the first of week of March 2020, there was a 200% increase in time spent in the Mayo Clinic app on Android phones in the US week over week. The app provides users access to appointment scheduling, secure messaging with health care professionals, information on symptoms and diseases, and test result viewings.
Countless other individual healthcare providers and medical organizations in countries around the globe are using either their own apps or Zoom videoconferencing to provide patient care, which is serving to indoctrinate consumers across geographies and socioeconomic strata to telemedicine’s benefits.
Some healthcare organizations and hospitals use proprietary software and teleconferencing solutions and are launching their apps in an effort to provide more security. Yet this often affects the user experience and provides more technological hurdles, especially for older patients who may not be technically savvy and are much less accustomed to having their medical needs handled online. As with any app, it’s important to provide the functionality that users want: access to medical records, the ability to book, change and cancel appointments, and request prescription refills. They must also be easy to use and provide a positive user experience.
Despite challenges and rising adoption, telemedicine is still in its infancy and destined for growth, especially in countries where healthcare is costly, medical insurance and provider coverage is difficult to navigate, and appointment wait times can be long. This medical crisis, while horrific and enormously challenging, has given an opportunity to use technology and the agility and capabilities of mobile apps to help, and even save, lives.
It’s my hope, and my belief, that after the crisis passes, citizens of the world will still opt for virtual doctor visits, online drug purchases and at-home medical testing. Telehealth can make preventative medicine, as well as actual diagnoses and treatment in many cases, much more accessible and less costly. Along with telemedicine, the growth of health and wellness apps are all but assured. Just as apps have seen record adoption across entertainment, business and countless other sectors, the time for health and wellness is now. We all stand to benefit.