Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 25, 2012

Healthcare Mobile Apps - It's not the Consumer but the Healthcare Providers That Need Them



A recent article at Healthcare Collective takes the position – in asking the question, “What’s the Matter with Mobile Health Apps Today?” - that most mobile healthcare apps aren’t used, at least not beyond an initial download and trial, after which the apps are discarded as quickly as they were downloaded. The article also noted that healthcare apps have appeared in record numbers of late – from just under 3,000 to just over 13,600 of them. Most of these apps focus on personal healthcare, and most of them are redundant in terms of what they do – some do certain things better than others, but most are destined for the delete bin.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in January 2012 there was an entire exhibiter space dedicated to mobile healthcare. We noted a potentially useful collection of applications, especially some that appeared to us to do a rather good job of checking vitals and keeping track of them. As we roamed the aisles, it turned out that there was one exhibiter – UnitedHealth Group, a rather major name in the health insurance industry – that had a significant booth there. Why?

Nick Martin, vice president of innovation, research and development at UnitedHealth Group says, “At UnitedHealth we believe that we need to use mobility to create a tight bond with our policyholders.  Users know how to put their mobile devices to work, and this provides us with a means to communicate closely with them. We engage our users through experiences and interactions that are typically fun for the user, but that ultimately lead us to teach our clients how they can achieve savings on medical costs. Our mobile apps are accessible anytime and anywhere, but more specifically, they give our users the freedom to engage with us when they want to.”

“In our case it isn’t simply about providing some sort of health app that substitute for such things as tracking blood pressure,” Martin continued. “In our case we are looking to specifically provide real financial and medical benefits. It becomes a differentiator for us – and as long as we provide real value, the users keep coming back and using the apps.”

For Martin, the apps aren’t simply a means to earn a few pennies on an app download. The use of mobile apps is a specific healthcare driver that aids in direct user engagement, and one that will continue to grow significantly, not just for UnitedHealth, but for its competitors as well. From this perspective mobile health apps are doing extremely well.

Doctors and Mobile Apps

The Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada is an example of a healthcare provider that has deployed an iPad mobile app - not for consumers but for doctors. The app, a computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system, was deployed to more than 1,000 doctors. The goal Ottawa specifically had was to change the process that had evolved for doctors to gain information about patients – a process that involved keeping doctors glued to computers rather than keeping them out in the field, so to speak, where they could visit in meaningful ways in face to face conversations with their patients.

Once the doctors became mobile through the iPad and the CPOE app, there was an immediate, measureable and very positive impact in the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors were able to gain substantial valuable time back, time that was then devoted entirely to face-to-face patient visits on a daily basis. Patients were able to sense a difference in terms of the quality of engagement, and doctors were able to specifically hone in on what patients needed right at the point of their interactions.

Having iPads in hand, providing immediate patient information, vitals, and other valuable insights literally at their fingertips changed the doctor-patient relationship from a reactive to a proactive one. Proactive engagement, in turn, allowed patients – as well as other family members – to collaborate on medications, treatment alternatives and medical reviews. Ottawa Hospital officials say that engaged patients take a much stronger interest in their own treatments, a perhaps subtle but significant change that increases overall treatment benefits.

These are but two of numerous examples of where the real value in mobility is to be found in the healthcare industry. Whether engaging with an insurance company, a pharmacy or a doctor (or a nurse or an intern…you get the picture), mobility drives immediate engagement with caregivers. It is the immediate engagement between the caregiver and patient that makes the difference.

Other mobile app examples include those that provide secure, real time patient data – an extremely valuable service in the emergency room, those that monitor patients through their mobile devices, and those that communicate real time information – whether between doctor and patient, or doctor and doctor in consultative situations.

The bottom line is that consumer apps that do very simple things are of likely very little value – and simply not worth talking about. Those that aid doctors, emergency rooms, nurses, and so on, and those that drive better patient-health provider/doctor engagement or that monitor health from the perspectives described here, are the real mobile applications that matter in any discussion of mobile healthcare.


Tony Rizzo has spent over 25 years in high tech publishing and joins HealthTechZone after a stint as Editor in Chief of Mobile Enterprise Magazine, which followed a two year stretch on the mobile vendor side of the world. Tony also spent five years as the Director of Mobile Research for 451 Research. Before his jump into mobility Tony spent a year as a publishing consultant for CMP Media, and served as the Editor in Chief of Internet World, NetGuide and Network Computing. He was the founding Technical Editor of Microsoft Systems Journal.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey




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