report by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science has found that the consumer digital health app market catapulted to new heights in 2020, with more than 90,000 new digital health apps hitting the market over the course of the year.

There are now more than 350,000 digital health apps available to consumers, according to the report.

However, the average quality of these products was found to be middling, with the report advising careful selection by consumers.

Downloads are heavily skewed, with 83% of apps installed fewer than 5,000 times and collectively accounting for less than 1% of total downloads. Meanwhile, a cohort of 110 dominant apps have each been downloaded more than 10 million times and make up almost 50% of total downloads.

While most of these virtual therapy apps are focused on the user’s overall health and wellbeing, disease-specific programmes have been growing in popularity.

Apps that focus on managing specific diseases now make up 47% of the market offering, compared to 28% in 2015. Mental health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease apps now account for almost half of disease-specific apps.

This boom in app development has been spurred by a significant increase in investment in the digital health space.

A record $24bn was committed to digital health in 2020, with a new monthly record of $3.4bn invested in December 2020.

IQVIA also found that average deal sizes have increased significantly, rising to $45.9m up from an average of $31.7m in 2020. The researchers said these trends are likely to continue as opportunities expand for mobile technologies to intervene in patient health.

Digital health apps and Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the surging interest in digital health apps, rapidly forcing patients and physicians world-over to embrace online health tools more than ever before.

As face-to-face appointments were curtailed, telemedicine apps had an increasingly prominent role in everyday healthcare delivery. Downloads of telehealth app Doximity, for instance, increased 38-fold in 2020.

IQVIA also noted bumps in app downloads tied to medical devices that could measure blood oxygen saturation during regional Covid-19 spikes.

At the same time, consumers turned to their smartphones for apps that could support them with their physical and mental health.

The report stated: “Overall, the pandemic has amplified the need for care provision and remote patient monitoring outside traditional healthcare settings, patient self-monitoring using various connected devices, and digital therapeutics that can deliver interventions via apps.”

Not all apps are equal

While 2020 was a landmark year for digital health, there has been a definite levelling off in app growth since 2017. The number of apps available has only grown by 10.3% in real terms compared to 2017.

The net gain of 32,736 apps between July 2017 and June 2021 reflects a release of over 351,000 new apps during the period, with over a third of these (about 116,000) already removed from the market and nearly twice as many older apps released prior to 2017 removed during this period.

“The attrition of health apps released from 2010-2018 in stores is much more significant than those from recent years, with the loss of about 50-75% of all apps released in those years,” the report noted

This decline can be attributed to a number of factors. App stores actively purge apps that function poorly, don’t follow guidelines or are out of date. Meanwhile, the ongoing cost for app developers to continuously update their product means many apps that don’t turn a profit or only see a few downloads eventually drop from the store.

Among the apps pulled from circulation by app stores, 51% had fewer than 100 downloads. Additionally, 61% of all removed apps were never updated while another 25% were updated for only a one-year period prior to removal.

Apps with large numbers of downloads were less likely to be removed, suggesting that developers not only need to build and maintain high-quality apps but create a plan to drive uptake and “differentiate from the noise”.

This story was originally published on Medical Device Network, part of the GlobalData network.