Toronto, Canada — Maria Lanza recently reminded us of one of the best stories of technology- and marketing-supported healthcare. It’s a perfect highlight of what it really takes to earn app adoption: support that goes way beyond the download.

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children takes care of kids with cancer. One of their treatment goals is minimizing the pain of the disease and the treatment as much as possible. To minimize it, they have to know about it and understand what’s working best to make their patients feel better.

For years, they relied on paper pain diaries that let kids write down their daily experiences. But, the diaries felt like homework. Homework for kids who were already run down and discouraged. Instead of tracking their pain every day, they hurriedly filled the diaries out right before their exams. By one count, only 11% were actually completed daily.

The hospital partnered with Cundari to take on the old challenge in a new way. Today, they give each child an iPhone loaded with an app called Pain Squad. It’s an app that feels almost like a game. Users join a police squad and the app takes them right into the precinct. Twice a day, they receive an alert, reminding them that’s it’s time to complete a new pain report.

The reports themselves are super easy. The kids record their pain with quick clicks and slides.

But the team knew easy wasn’t nearly enough.

You’ve probably heard the same bad news about health apps that we have. The data looks great, but the adoption … well, it’s spotty. According to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the number of Americans using technology to track their health or fitness didn’t change much between 2010 and early 2013. And, even apps that get downloaded struggle to earn repeat use.

So, Pain Squad marketing keeps going, actively helping users stay involved. They worked with stars of Canada’s top police dramas – Flashpoint and Rookie Blue – to create motivational videos that congratulate and recognize users for their work on the Pain Squad. Kids receive badges and recognition for completing multiple reports in a row. There’s even a great graduation moment when users are “retired” from the squad as they complete treatment.

So, did it work? Absolutely. Throughout the feasibility study, the app had over 91% compliance. Remember the compare to study was 11%. So, HUGE! What’s super interesting, though – and a big credit to the content marketing around the app – is that compliance actually went up over time. In the first week, it was 86%. In the second week, that bounced to 95%.

It’s being rolled out in several more hospitals now and may soon be available even more broadly.

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Posted by: Leigh Householder

Find from: Maria Lanza

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.