Change comes slowly to the health care industry. It’s still not uncommon to see reams of paper files stacked in the office of a local health care provider. But progress is starting to be achieved as mobile applications begin to proliferate across the health care industry.
Most of these applications are accessing electronic medical records (EMR) systems. It’s been a struggle for most health care organizations to make this transition. But after some false starts, mainly focused on the usability and performance of those applications, investments in EMR system are starting to pay off.
A new survey of IT health care professionals published by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) naturally finds the top two priorities are patient safety and cybersecurity. But the next top two priorities cited are workflow and data analytics/business intelligence (BI). This suggests that health care providers are now moving to reengineer processes based on the massive amount of data being collected in EMR systems.
The same survey, however, makes it clear that both budgets and staffing remain primary hurdles for many organizations. The survey finds most hospitals (63 percent) project their IT operating budget to stay the same (21 percent) or be reduced (43 percent). Over half of hospital respondents (51 percent) said their organization elected to place on hold or scale back an IT project or initiative in the past year due to a workforce challenge. Like most industries, health care organizations are also finding it hard to attract and retain IT professionals that have the advanced skills required to build and maintain advanced applications.
Despite those concerns, health care providers appear especially keen to embrace mobile computing as an enabler of digital business transformation. A global survey of 600 health care IT decision makers conducted by the market research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of Jamf, a provider of mobile device management (MDM) software delivered via the cloud, finds 90 percent of organizations reporting that they are implementing or planning to implement a mobile device initiative. Mobile devices are or will be commonly used at nurses’ stations (72 percent), administrative offices (63 percent) and patient rooms (56 percent). Over half of all respondents also expect mobile applications to be extended to clinical care teams (59 percent) and administrative staff (54 percent). Nearly half (47 percent) said they also plan to increase the mobile device use over the next two years.
In general, health care providers typically focus first on connectivity to provide a better custom experience, says Adam Mahmud, healthcare alliance manager for Jamf. But before too long, the internal staff starts to make a case of replacing paper-based business processes with mobile applications, says Mahmud.
“That’s absolutely the drive behind mobility in health care,” says Mahmud.
Mobile applications are also critical to driving a wide variety of home health care applications that are intended to reduce the number of visits patients need to make to their health care provider.
A new report from IDTechEx Research estimates that $4.7 billion was invested in various digital health technologies in 2017 alone. Much of that investment, however, is not being driven by traditional health care providers. The report notes that IT vendor such as Amazon, Apple and Alphabet are all investing in preventative mobile health care applications at a time when much of the general population is getting older. Usage of many of those applications might eventually be encouraged by insurance providers providing incentives to keep as many individuals out of hospitals as possible. After all, there’s a direct correlation between keeping people out the hospital and the profitability of the insurance provider.
One of the major challenges health care providers face when embracing digital business processes is all the regulatory approvals required, says Kevin Rothstein, network engineer for Sharp Healthcare, a regional health care provider based on San Diego.
“The development cycle is longer than in other industries,” says Rothstein.
The primary drivers of those applications are the doctors, which Rothstein says health care organizations are keen to attract because they drive business to the hospital. The more advanced the application environment is, the easier it becomes to convince doctors to recommend a specific health care facility to their patient, explains Rothstein.
On the plus side, Rothstein says, health care organizations can take advantage of standard Health Level Seven (HL7) application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate mobile applications with various backend systems. But even then, Rothstein says there is no “magic bullet.” Each mobile application still needs to be built, tested and validated, says Rothstein.
Once that occurs, there also tends to be rigorous cybersecurity testing that needs to be applied, given the sensitivity of the data being regularly accessed.
While all those requirements may put a strain on the IT resources, funding for digital business transformation projects in health care is not limited to the internal IT department, says Alan Ni, director of vertical marketing at Aruba Networks, an arm of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE).
“It could be driven by the bio medicine department or the head of nursing,” says Ni.
Regardless of the source of funding, however, once that application is built or purchased, it invariably becomes the responsibility of the internal IT organization to make sure the network is first robust enough to first run it, and then secondly that the data needed to drive that application is accessible. But a lot of the upfront costs for the application might be offlaid to a line of business.
Regardless of the pace, change is most certainly coming to health care. In fact, patients are starting to appreciate the potential of new health care applications. A recent survey of consumers conducted by NTT Data Services, a provider of IT services, finds that tech-savvy patients are now starting to take note of how rich the digital experience being made available is. Among those patients, 78 percent say that the digital customer experience needs to improve, while 50 percent said they would leave their current doctor for a better digital experience.
Obviously, not every patient is tech-savvy. But when it comes to the ability to pay a medical bill, chances are high that a tech-savvy patient has access to an insurance plan that ensures the health care provider will eventually get paid. For that reason alone, most health care providers will soon discover that mobile devices and applications are now standard-issue equipment.