Guest post by Alex Bratton, CEO at Lextech.
The ability of consumers and healthcare providers to access information and streamline processes using mobile devices is having a profound impact on healthcare.
For the first time this year, sales of smartphones are expected to surpass sales of traditional cell phones. More than 800 million smartphones are expected to be sold worldwide in 2013, according to Canalys. In addition, IDC predicts that more than 170 million tablets will be sold this year, surpassing laptop sales.
All these mobile devices in the hands of consumers means that the mobile app market will continue its torrid pace, and this is true in healthcare too. The market for mobile healthcare apps is expected to reach $400 million by 2016, according to ABI Research.
With the consumerization of healthcare, both doctors and hospitals have a vested interest in delivering an experience that will build patient loyalty. At the same time, new healthcare laws also are putting patients in a position of being more responsible for their own care. Healthcare providers who give patients the tools they need to simplify information and make informed choices will build stronger and longer relationships with patients. Mobile apps will be the heart of these tools.
Doctor practices and hospital systems are ripe with opportunity to use mobile apps to streamline processes and deliver better care. Some of the most obvious areas that can benefit from mobile apps include:
- Better access to patient records and billing. Electronic health record (EHR) systems bring an entire patient history into one digital record, creating a constantly updated file. The idea behind EHRs is a great one. Unfortunately, with multiple EHR providers, doctor offices often interface with diverse systems, some of which have their own mobile apps. The future points to mobile apps that interface with multiple EHR systems at the same time and allow doctors to use one app to quickly retrieve and update information regardless of which EHR system is used. The same is true for billing systems. Doctor offices may be affiliated with one or more hospitals or clinics, each using a different billing system. Many use remote desktop tools to connect with a PC running software in the office. However, these mouse-driven interfaces don’t work well in a mobile environment. There is tremendous opportunity for apps that work well regardless of the backend system.
- Ability to provide more timely care. Mobile apps can play an important role in providing better, more timely patient care. By facilitating communication and the flow of information, mobile apps can notify doctors when test results are in and provide a workflow of next steps. Real time secure messaging and record delivery is possible today. Adding a confirmation of receipt for messages and a backend workflow is not far behind. This will even be extended to communications linking doctors and patients. That will start with text content like secure emails but will gradually expand to remote video sharing with care givers, allowing for a remote diagnosis or quick check-in without a physical office visit.
- A streamlined and improved patient experience. Many doctors and hospitals still use paper forms to check in patients. When a patient goes to a new doctor, the health form must be filled out again, which is frustrating to patients. Mobile apps provide the opportunity to allow patients to check in using a tablet that accesses information that only needs to be updated. These apps can be extended to the ER, where patients can be checked in quickly, triaged and moved through the system. Patient-focused apps also can allow patients to set appointments, request prescription refills and set preferences for appointment reminders or notifications that the doctor is running late. If airlines can share their complicated scheduling information in real time, practitioners should be able to as well.
- Patient access to meaningful health records. Despite consumer demand for better access to health records, many doctors hesitate to give patients access because they are concerned they will not understand the information, and will panic or make requests for additional tests. Most of this concern stems from the fact that raw medical records are overly complicated and include medical codes that are indecipherable to most patients. Mobile apps can help by simplifying medical information and presenting it to patients in a format they can understand. This will require adding a layer of intelligence as well as information that patients will find helpful, such as grouping billing elements into a single procedure.
- Proactive patient care. Patients will benefit from mobile apps that help them better manage their health and lower their healthcare costs. Apps can remind patients to take medications and can educate patients by providing tutorials on topics like administering shots and taking blood pressure readings. These apps also can be useful in reminding patients about doctor instructions. Instead of leaving an appointment with a stack of paper and a vague recollection of instructions, the app will remind the patient about procedures and follow ups. Finally, apps can provide financial transparency into medical billing, encouraging patients to make good care decisions for financial benefit in addition to heath reasons. For example, patients who know that a doctor visit costs $200 may be more likely to finish their prescription to avoid going back.
Alex Bratton is CEO and chief geek at Lextech (www.lextech.com), a mobile app development company that evaluates business workflows to identify and build apps that improve processes and make the complex simple. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.