Mobile app innovation and creativity is changing the way in which patients interact with practitioners and, at an even higher level, manage their own health. Currently, however, the difficulty in enabling unrelated apps to work together, along with other inefficiencies, suggests that a tremendous amount of integration and development work remains.
The variety of uses of health care apps by non-practitioners suggests how quickly they are being accepted. This is partly an outgrowth of the public’s growing comfort with mobile applications and its willingness to use them as a tool in their everyday lives. This spring, Healthcare Now released a study that looked into mobile app use patterns by health care professionals and non-professionals. Healthcare Informatics’ report said the study found that a majority of patient apps are used to improve lifestyle – to lose weight or get into better shape, for instance. Virtually the same percentage, 30 percent and 29 percent, used the apps to monitor existing conditions and to remind them to take medications, respectively.
The use of apps by patients indeed is very broad. Two crucial roles, according to Lucas Felt, president of The Medical Memory, are to broaden the number of people involved in the care of a patient and to act as a filter and contextual agent on the huge and often overwhelming amount of information that is available.
The Medical Memory is a platform that records the interaction between a patient and their practitioner and uploads it to a central site. From there, it can be downloaded to PCs or mobile devices, and to patients, family members and/or friends. The idea is that a patient at an initial consultation may be overwhelmed, especially if the news is not good and if the patient is alone and/or in some way impaired. The company says that an average of 70 percent of details on prognosis, treatment options, follow-up care and other important issues are lost in the haze of a consultation. Recording the meeting for later review – by the patient’s family or friends as well as the patient him or herself – can be hugely helpful.
Nikhil Krishnan, a research analyst at CB Insights, agrees with Felt’s point that the new world of apps can improve outcomes by creating a better flow of data between patients and their health care providers.
“One of biggest things is the intersection of patients and the enterprise itself,” Krishnan said. “Mobile [and apps] lets patients track more data about themselves outside the hospital. In the past, there was only data during the stay in hospital, which is a short amount of time. Now wearables and at-home diagnostic tools let patients take better control.”
Apps, Data: Putting It All Together
Information indeed is king. Bob Huff, an IT specialist with the RMA of Texas, said that the multi-state fertility clinic began a patient-centric technology remake about two and a half years ago. One part was aimed at condensing enrollment forms, which formerly could run to 27 pages – and now are five or six – and another at reducing paper processes.
The third, and most relevant in the mobile device realm, is a new calendar and scheduling app given to patients. Timing and coordination are especially important in the world of fertility. Certain drugs must be administered at specific times to be effective. The app, which was rolled out within the past month, automatically integrates the electronic health records (EHR) database with patient email. Any change in appointment schedule is automatically coordinated with patient email within three minutes of the change being made.
In addition to calendaring, the app, which is available on Google Play and pending in the Apple App Store, tells the patient which medicine she has to take and offers instructional videos on administering. A journal element enables patients to chart their feelings as they wend their way through the highly emotional process. “My patients love it because it is proactive,” Huff said.
The innovation will continue. Huff believes that skin sensors and injectables that continually monitor patients – reducing or even eliminating the need for routine office visits – will be available in the not too distant future. Simple apps, such as one that links to the patient’s automobile GPS system and signals the office if she is on the way to a scheduled appointment or not, can simplify operations and create great efficiencies.
Right now, great tools for better serving patients are available, but the sector has not yet coalesced into platforms that provide known and identifiable tools. It is as if the mass production of books is suddenly possible and great authors are writing – but we have no Dewey Decimal System to classify and categorize them. The inefficient way in which mobile apps for patients are placed in the marketplace and managed robs them of many of their potential benefits.
Building Effective Platforms for Patient Apps
Observers say that the next step is to create these efficiencies. Specifically, the goals ahead include developing apps that can be personalized to the needs of the patient, that have a common user interface, that can work in unison with related apps and databases, and that can access Big Data engines. In short, the immediate future must focus on the maturing of the category and harnessing the great creativity that is evident today.
It also is important to remember that mobile apps create a world of data. This data is nominally useless – indeed it even can be harmful – if Big Data is not integrated into the mix to provide a way to transform all this data into useful knowledge.
The road to unification and Big Data access is clear. Felt points to Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook as platforms onto which a more coherent mobile app world can be structured. This extended usability will be supported by Big Data capabilities that will both extend the functionality of the individual apps or modules and enable them to share information about the patient.
“I think people are still figuring out what makes [apps] terrific,” Felt said. “If you look past six months down the road, you will see elements in the user experience and functionality that you have not seen before.”
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.