In-app onboarding for med and pharma digital products

by Duncan Meyer
by Duncan Meyer

How an effective approach to in-app onboarding can increase user engagement & retention rates. Top practices for successful digital healthcare app onboarding.

First impressions are always the most important. They can either create or ruin an opportunity.

The same principle applies to med digital products: they either engage users or remain in the shadows, forcing companies to accept failure.

An ill-considered approach to in-app onboarding is fraught with losing months of healthcare product development along with money thrown away — your product will never be tried out. 

Wait. How do you prevent such a scenario? Let's take a deeper look at the onboarding process and answer the main question: is taking onboarding seriously so crucial to your brand recognition and building trust with end-users?

Users. Engagement. Retention

In general, onboarding is the process of getting to know your product, during which users learn how to use it and, ideally, how to benefit from it

The main goal of onboarding is to guide a user through the exciting process of exploring your app's functionality in order to turn him or her into a loyal advocate of your product.

brandmed tips

Lockdown has particularly sparked the digital medical app boom, which has also given healthcare businesses a painful challenge — to engage and retain tech-savvy and discerning users in a fast-paced market and growing competitive environment. 

Thus, along with a lot of similar solutions, the one where onboarding passed quickly, seamlessly, and offered value to users stands to gain.

According to the Pendo report, only 30% of users regularly use an app during their first 90 days with a digital solution [1].

The decrease in engagement in the first 90 days is driven by the "value gap". Perceived value and experienced one simply do not coincide. The reason is far from the user himself or a product failure, but rather the lack of an educational approach that would allow customers to identify the true value in the product.

Value gap

The greater the diversity, the harder the retention

Although the average 90-day retention rate within digital healthcare solutions amounted to only 31 percent in 2020, the situation has changed dramatically since the introduction of the customers' unmet needs approach, where personalization has taken on a pivotal role. As a result, the retention rate reached 70 percent [2].

user retention

The greater the value, the lighter the retention

On the flipside, without a value identification, the user will, at best, put the application on hold until a better time or, at worst, get rid of it. Therefore, the primary reason people delete apps is that they are not being used [3].

App uninstalls 

Onboarding types

types of onboarding

An effective approach to in-app onboarding can provide the following indispensable benefits. 

  • A step-by-step introductory experience
  • Ease of perception of sophisticated med-related information 
  • Increasing levels of engagement
  • Adjusting the functionality of the solution to the users' needs, aka personalization.

What are the main types of such strategies? Depending on what audience your medical product is targeted at, what functionality it provides, and what its primary purpose is, the approach to the initial user’s journey through your app may be different:

Progressive approach

The progressive onboarding approach is most often suitable for medical solutions with a complex algorithm and a large number of sections.

The main goal of this approach is to gradually teach and inform users about an app — navigating as they go without overloading them with all the core information at once. 

Function-oriented approach

When dealing with function-rich solutions, it is important to highlight the most notable perks and show them to users directly after signing up. 

In more detail, this approach, besides informing users about the product's distinctive functionalities, also provides a quick guide on how to use them effectively to get the most out of it.

Benefits-oriented approach

Unlike the previous approach, a benefits-oriented one focuses on what a product can do rather than how it does it. 

Such a user retention chip is used to increase engagement and encourage users to move on to the next step of mastering: how to use these benefits in a user-friendly way.

“Personalization is the key to engagement” [4].

Go-to practices for health in-app onboarding to follow in 2022

Place the necessary data upfront

Deciding which feature deserves special attention when your whole product is one solid value might be a challenge. If it's obvious to you, it might be "just another healthcare-oriented app" to them. Users need to prove this value. 

For example, if it's an app for diabetics, immediately show users your app’s benefits: what problems it addresses and in what way; outline 5 features out of 10; and two solutions out of 4 possible. 

Just give users a chance to unlock the product's potential gradually without "revealing all the cards all at once". This will help to keep them curious throughout the whole journey. To put it simply, try not to “overload” users.

Necessary data

Gain the user's trust

People involved with healthcare apps are more than willing to keep their personal data private. Your moment to prove safety and credibility comes once onboarding begins.

  • Keep it minimalistic when you need to ask for confidential information.
  • Explain why it is necessary when asking for personal data.
  • In the case of a paid app, don't ask for payment details during the first minutes. 
  • Refer users to your privacy policy to prove the security of their data.
User's trust

Give users freedom of choice

Allow skipping

You don't have to hold the user's hand through the whole onboarding process — give him or her a little leeway for them to feel trusted. 

Is a user unwilling to give an email now to monitor your product updates? Then let's skip this step, and he or she will continue to get to know your digital product.

Allow “back” steps

Let users have full control of the process: add a back button and show how many steps are left to show respect for the user.

Back steps

Allow customization

If your product is an educational app for a medically-oriented audience with access to the latest medical content, expertise and insights, it would be wise to give users choices for improved customization. 

For example, which area of medicine he or she is interested in more: gynecology, pharma, or surgery.

Another option for customizing a multifunctional application is to give users the authority to define goals and propose solutions through your product.


Take social sign-in seriously

Social sign-in within healthcare applications can be a way to jeopardize data security. Thus, it’s better to think twice before suggesting registration through social media. 

In any case, you need to be guided by the functionality your product offers. Here, too, the right to choose is essential: try offering alternative ways to register and ensure that a user knows what data will be shared with a platform.


In-app onboarding: to sum up

What are the ultimate components of successful in-app onboarding?

To be honest, there is no single pattern, and it's not quite right in terms of personalization, which is now an indispensable part of every project.

Nevertheless, there are pillars on which the contemporary onboarding process is based:

  • Features promotion
  • Customization freedom
  • Unobtrusive guidance
  • Relevant brand design 
  • Utmost simplicity of complex solutions.
Common components

What are the next steps of med digital product's success?  Read more about best practices of designing your digital products here.

In-app onboarding is one of the main parts of the design process before your product launch. Whether you want to get your design up to speed or develop a product from scratch, our fully-equipped medtech team is here to help — let's talk.

Let's talk


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