Healthcare Organization Mobile Apps

We’re going to stray from (and hopefully change) the normal routine with this post and subsequent posts. I really want to break up the steady flow of mHealth news summary posts, so I’m going to start integrating more commentary posts. I hope you like it, as it will be a lot more opinion and impression and less a summary of news.

The challenge with mHealth — and HIT generally, right now — is that so much is happening that it is difficult to digest all the various stories about apps, pilots, studies, technologies, stakeholders, etc. 

I’m starting with a post on healthcare facility-specific mobile apps. but plan to write future posts about topics likes online scheduling services, specific mobile app categories, remote monitoring, social media in health, mHealth for providers, mobile PHRs, and other topics that seem relevant. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

OK, why do I think a discussion of healthcare facility mobile apps is relevant right now?

  • I’ve seen an increasing number of healthcare providers publishing mobile apps and thought it would be of value to present them all in one place.
  • I’ve been in several discussions recently with healthcare organizations trying to define a mobile strategy.
  • A recent survey of smart phone health app users found that 26% don’t use them more than once. Of the remaining users, 74% stop using them before the tenth use. With that in mind, I think providers and healthcare organizations should seriously consider their mobile strategy before devoting resources (I’ve seen proposals anywhere from $40,000 to $110,000 for a mobile facility app) and publishing an app just to “have a presence in the app store.”
  • An increasing number of mobile platform and development companies are now targeting healthcare, including our new sponsor Kony.

The facility apps we’ve reported on at HIStalk Mobile include these (I’m sure I’m missing a bunch):

As listed above, I’ve reported on an array of mobile applications recently published by healthcare organizations, yet I’m not sure how representative that is of healthcare facilities generally. The city I live in, which has about 2.5 million people, has no mobile healthcare facility apps, though I’ve heard the local HCA facilities are preparing to release one soon that is being developed by Red Fish Media, which to date has only done SMS ED wait time services for HCA. 

Also, the majority of discussions I’ve had with healthcare organizations have not resulted in a mobile app being developed.

I think the first thing to consider when deciding on mobile strategy for a healthcare organization is to answer the question, “What is the goal?” By defining the goal, you can establish targets and understand the ROI. Some specific questions to ask about functionality and goals:

  • Do you want to recruit more patients to your ED and provide better access to providers and clinics?
  • Do you simply want to keep up with local competitors?  I’ve heard this one, especially when it comes to iTriage.
  • Do you want to allow patients to schedule appointments or register over their mobile devices?
  • Do you want to empower patients with educational content and symptom checkers?
  • Do you want to engage patients with self-management tools like calorie and weight trackers?  

Some of these are easy/cheap (facility info, education, self-management) and some are hard/expensive (appointments and registration). Most organizations I’ve spoken with have heard mobile is important and simply want a way to allow patients to access information (which is usually undefined) over mobile devices.

Now that you’ve defined the mobile strategy and set some goals, what technology options exist when considering how best to create a mobile strategy?

The most obvious, to me at least, is to simply mobile-enable the facility Web site. This is relatively cheap and allows users to access facility info (phone numbers and directions), search for providers, and get ED wait times if the hospital publishes that information. As a mobile user, this is my preference, as it enables me to access mobile-formatted material without downloading an app for each healthcare org or facility in town. 

But I’m not a typical user, as Aaron Kaufman of Kony pointed out in a recent interview with Mr. HIStalk, when he said most mobile users search the app store before they try mobile web. Aaron also pointed out that the user experience and features improve considerably with native mobile apps versus mobile Web sites. Also, organizations don’t’ seem to do press releases for mobile-enabled Web sites.

After reading about the power of native apps vs. mobile Web sites, now you’re convinced you need a native app. What platform should it be built on? 

My suggestion would be to build it support the big three: iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. BlackBerry is not quite as “cool” as the other two major mobile platforms and has been losing ground for awhile, but I still think a lot of smart phone users, especially older ones that happen to be large consumers of healthcare, use BlackBerry. If you can only afford to support two platforms, make it iOS and Android.

Second native app question, and this is one I’ve gotten several times from healthcare organizations: should I build my own mobile app or simply pay for a premium listing on iTriage? (which speaks to the popularity of Healthagen’s app.) 

To me, these are not mutually exclusive options. Having a premium listing in iTriage is just a premium yellow page listing. It’s like saying, “I advertise on Google Maps, but didn’t bother to build a Web site” (comparing iTriage to Google Maps is a pretty nice compliment). It means iTriage users will see more information about your facility when they are looking for facilities. iTriage is expanding into scheduling and pre-registration as well.  It also means that consumers searching the app store for a healthcare organization’s mobile app will find nothing.

Again, back to goals. If you want to improve the patient experience with your organization, I do not think iTriage is going to accomplish that for you. But if other local facilities are listing with iTriage, you might also want to list to assure you’re competitive for iTriage’s growing number of users. 

The last question, or really a set of questions, to answer is the mobile app functionality. 

For this discussion, I won’t consider mobile PHRs an option, mostly because I haven’t seen anybody do it with a facility app, though more are rolling out mobile PRHs from EMR vendors like Epic as separate apps. For facility apps, I think things like contact info, directions, and provider listings are a given, but this alone will not maximize continued usage. I think organizations are realizing this and that is why they are trying to provide value-added services, like calorie counters and blood glucose logs, as well as more tailored experiences, like OhioHealth above, into mobile apps.

I think we’ll likely see more of this type of functionality in the future to assure decent adoption of mobile apps. It’s like PHRs. I firmly believe people don’t really want a PHR, but want things like appointments and registration and the ability to communicate with providers.

One additional thought about mobile apps. Having a smart phone app or mobile Web site, even if built for the three platforms listed above, does not capture the entire mobile space. Facilities should still support SMS and automated voice messaging to reach non-smart phone users.

This is obviously a very brief overview of how a provider might address mobile strategy and a description of what other healthcare organizations are doing with mobile. The real process would likely require countless meetings, committees, proposals, and conference calls before decisions are made, but in the spirit of brevity and blogging, I’ve tried to present my accelerated version.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA and is involved with health IT startups.

  • denis baker

    Travis, re: iTriage. You may know but didn’t mention that HCA locked out competitors from signing up for the “special” placement on iTriage. Denis

↑ Back to top

Founding Sponsors

Platinum Sponsors