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E-Patient Update: Enough Apps Already

Posted on September 1, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

New data suggests that while app use is becoming a core activity for mobile, the number of apps people use is dropping. In fact, over the longer term, analysts say, most businesses will need to slim down the number of apps they deploy and do more to retain app users.

Speaking as someone who relies on apps to manage her health, I certainly hope that this happens among healthcare providers.

Maybe you think of my contact with your organization as a series of distinct interactions, and the data something that can be reintegrated later. All I can say is ”Please, no.” I want every digital contact I have with your organization to be part of a large, easy-to-navigate whole.

In fact,  I’ll go further and say that if your organizations offer a single, robust app that can offer me broad access to your administration, clinical departments and patient data I’ll choose you over your competitors any day.

Health app overload

As you may know, the number of health-related apps available on the Google Play and iTunes stores has grown at a dizzying pace over the last few years, hitting approximately 165,000 across both platforms as of two years ago. Most of these are were created by independent developers, and only a small percentage of those apps are downloaded and used regularly, but it’s still a stat worth considering.

Meanwhile, new data suggests that the field is going to narrow further among apps of all types. According to research from Business Insider, somewhere between 10% and 12% of app users remain engaged with those apps within seven days of installing them. However, that percentage drops to around 4% within just 30 days.

These trends may force a change in how healthcare organizations think about, develop and deploy apps for their end users. As users think of apps as utilities, they will have little patience for using, say, one for your cardiology department and another for sleep management, not to be confused with a third portal app for downloading medical information and paying bills.

If you’re part of an institution with multiple apps deployed, this may sound discouraging. But maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.  Consumers may have less patience for a fragmented app experience, but if you produce a “power tool” app, they’re likely to use it. And if you play your cards right, that may mean higher levels of patient engagement.

My ideal health app

Having slammed the status quo, here’s what I’d like to see happen with the apps developed by healthcare organizations. I believe they should work as follows:

  • Providers should offer just one app for access to the entire organization, including all clinical departments
  • It should have the ability to collect and upload patient-generated data to the EMR
  • It should provide all features currently available through existing portals, including access to health data, secure email connections to providers, appointment-setting and bill payment
  • It makes all standard paperwork available, including informed consent documentation, pre-surgical instructions, financial agreements and applications for financial aid and Medicaid
  • It generates questions to ask a provider during a consult, before an imaging procedure, before, during and after hospitalization

I could go further, but I’m sure you get the idea: I’d like my providers’ apps to improve my health and foster my relationship with them.  To make that happen, I need a single, unified entity, not a bunch of separate modules that take up space on my phone and distract me from my overall goals.

Of course, one could reasonably observe that this turns a bunch of small lightweight programs into a single thick client. I’m sure that has implications for app coding and development, such as having to ensure that the larger apps still run reasonably quickly on mobile devices. Still, smartphones are ridiculously powerful these days, so I think it can still happen.

Like it or not, consumers are moving past the “there’s an app for everything ” stage and towards having a few powerful apps support them. If you’re still developing apps for every aspect of your business, stop.

Steps In Integrating Patient-Generated Health Data

Posted on May 24, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As the number of connected health devices in use has expanded, healthcare leaders have grappled with how to best leverage the data they generate. However, aside from a few largely experimental attempts, few providers are making active use of such data.

Part of the reason is that the connected health market is still maturing. With health tracking wearables, remote monitoring set-ups, mobile apps and more joining the chorus, it might be too soon to try and normalize all this data, much less harvest it for clinical use. Also, few healthcare organizations seem to have a mature strategy in place for digital health.

But technical issues may be the least of our problems. It’s important to note that providers have serious concerns around patient-generated health data (PGHD), ranging from questions about its validity to fears that such data will overwhelm them.

However, it’s possible to calm these fears, argues Christina Caraballo, senior healthcare strategist at Get Real Health.  Here’s her list of the top five concerns she’s heard from providers, with responses that may help put providers at ease:

  • Fear they’ll miss something in the flood of data. Add disclaimers, consent forms, video clips or easy-to-digest graphics clarifying what consumers can and can’t expect, explicitly limiting provider liability.
  • Worries over data privacy and security: Give consumers back some of the risk, by emphasizing that no medium is perfectly secure, including paper health records, and that they must determine whether the benefits of using digital health devices outweigh the risks.
  • Questions about data integrity and standardization: Emphasize that while the industry has made great process and standardization, interoperability, authentication, data provenance, reliability, validity, clinical value and even workflow, the bottom line is that the data still comes from patients, who don’t always report everything regardless of how you collect the data.
  • Concerns about impact on workflow: Underscore that if the data is presented in the right framework, it will be digestible in much the same way as other electronic medical data.
  • Resistance to pressure from consumers: Don’t demand that providers leverage PGHD out of the gate; instead, move incrementally into the PGHD management by letting patients collect data electronically, and then incorporate data into clinical systems once all stakeholders are on board.

Now, I’m not totally uncritical of Ms. Caraballo’s article. In particular, I take issue with her assertion that providers who balk at using PGHD are “naysayers” who “simply don’t want to change.” While there are always a few folks fitting this description in any profession, the concerns she outlines aren’t trivial, and brushing them off with vague reassurances won’t work.

Truthfully, if I were a provider I doubt I would be comfortable relying on PGHD, especially biometric data. As Ingrid Oakley-Girvan of Medable notes, wearables giant Fitbit was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that its heart rate monitoring technology is inaccurate, and I wouldn’t be surprised other such suits arise. Digital health trackers and apps have transitioned from novelty to quasi-official medical device very quickly — some might say too quickly – and being cautious about their output just makes sense.

Nonetheless, PGHD will play a role in patient care and management at some point in the future, and it makes sense to keep providers in the loop as these technologies progress. But rushing them into using such data would not be wise. Let’s make sure such technologies are vetted before they assume a routine role in care.