Analysis of an underserved market: only 0.2% of migraine sufferers use migraine apps

research2guidance has published a short article on how migraine sufferers constitute an underserved market, and how present apps do not meet their needs. Here is an opportunity for app developers and companies to address a common and often near-intractable pain that affects everyday life. The author is David Ireland, Research Analyst, r2g Berlin.

Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world affecting 1 billion people worldwide^. However, this demographic of migraine sufferers is heavily underserved by mobile health applications, with only 0.2% of migraine sufferers using a migraine app*. But why? A major opportunity exists for an application with the right strategy, and the right balance of features and functionalities to lead the market, while having a positive impact on the health of migraine sufferers.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation (2017), migraine is the sixth most disabling illness in the world. More than 4 million people suffer from chronic migraine attacks every day. U.S. healthcare and loss of productivity costs are estimated to be around US$36 billion annually; just the cost of brain scans of headache sufferers alone comes in at around US$1 billion per year. Migraines are responsible for a huge loss in productivity, rendering 90% of sufferers unable to function normally, costing U.S. employers US$13 billion, and 113 million work days in 2016.

Far from being just a bad headache, migraine attacks can cause a diverse range of disabling symptoms such as severe pain, nausea and visual disturbance. While medications exist to help treat symptoms, migraine sufferers need to carefully manage their medication intake, while monitoring risk factors such as food, sleep and triggers to treat, and prevent the condition from becoming chronic. Tracking medication is critical, as most chronic migraine sufferers are a result of medication overuse^.

The main promise of migraine apps is to provide migraine sufferers with a way to better manage their condition, decreasing the chances of migraine attacks, of headaches intensifying into migraines, and of the condition becoming chronic. To achieve this, migraine apps could provide users with the following (in no particular order of priority):

  • Log-books / diaries: recording migraine events to help the user better understand their condition, while allowing for a better communication between the user and GP
  • Reporting: for analyzing and summarizing the users’ behavior, triggers, risk and symptoms, while allowing for a better communication between the user and GP
  • Information repository: peer-reviewed educational content aimed at educating the user on neurological conditions, and how best identify, treat, manage and prevent them
  • Pattern recognition: based on historical user data to notify the user of high-risk scenarios
  • Sensors: using weather sensing to learn about the ways in which the weather influences migraines
  • Remote consultation: using audio and video to connect users with GPs
  • Coaching: using health coaches to help sustain healthy behavior change
  • Data operability: allowing seamless transfer of user data into and out of the app
  • UX and design: making the app user-friendly and appealing to migraine sufferers of all ages
  • Gamification: using incentives and rewards to influence healthy behavior change

The mHealth community is well aware of the success of, say, the improved health of diabetes sufferers thanks to mobile health applications. So, with the global prevalence of migraine sufferers reaching the 1 billion mark, one can assume that migraine apps are serving their target group in large? Right? Wrong.click to enlarge Only 0.2% of migraine sufferers use a migraine app*. Assuming that only migraine sufferers have downloaded a migraine app (which may not be the case, resulting in an even lower penetration), only 10 million migraine sufferers downloaded migraine apps in 2016 out of a potential 1 billion. It is therefore within reason to say that this target group of migraine sufferers is heavily underserved.

Currently, migraine apps are not meeting the needs or demands of sufferers, nor the potential. So why is it that migraine sufferers aren’t making use of the current selection of migraine apps? Is it an app quality issue? Are sufferers lacking an awareness? Are GPs? We believe that it is a mixture of these reasons, and more.

From a user’s perspective, here are the reasons why we believe migraine apps are struggling to penetrate their target groups:

  1. App feature and functionality gaps
  2. Low app quality; usability limitations, UX and design outdated and not user-friendly
  3. Lack of awareness; amongst patients and GPs of the benefits of migraine apps
  4. Lack of support from GPs; unwilling to recommend the app use among patients
  5. Lack of support from payers; very few examples of health insurance cover for migraine apps and related services (E.g. coaching for migraine patients)
  6. Lack of diagnosis; GPs fail to diagnose migraine disorders in patients due to a communication breakdown between patients and GPs of headache-related events

As we see it, the opportunity is there for the taking; the capabilities that lie within mobile health apps are yet to successfully make it into the migraine arena. Competition levels are low, and with the hype of mHealth continuing to raise awareness amongst migraine sufferers, it is only a matter of time before this market segment picks up amongst the demographic of 1 billion migraine sufferers.

^Migraine Research Foundation (2017)
* (1) Based on the assumption that only 20% of migraine app downloaders actively use the app; (2) research2guidance market research.

This article is reprinted with the kind permission of r2g’s Ralf-Gordon Jahns. research2guidance has conducted the annual Global mHealth App Developer Economics Study for the past six years; TTA and DHACA (Charles Lowe) have been past media partners.  They welcome contact and comments at info@research2guidance or at their website. Readers may also download r2g’s free mHealth Developer Economics 2016 report on the best-in-class mHealth apps and other interesting mHealth industry related content.

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