How to choose the right healthcare app

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Pulse on Patient Recruitment by Ashley Tointon

The development of apps for healthcare has reached an all-time high, with thousands currently available for multiple devices for both consumers and healthcare professionals. Global statistics show that downloads of mobile health (mHealth) apps almost doubled in less than a year, from 127 million in 2011 to 247 million by October 2012. With so many different apps available, reviewing all of the options and finding the right one can be daunting. As you sift through the vast array of apps, narrow your choice by assessing functionality, accessibility and cost.

Look at functionality first. Having a clear understanding of what you want your app to do you can weed out the ones that don’t meet your basic functionality requirement. There are multiple functions to consider in a healthcare app. As a healthcare provider (HCP), do you want your app simply to house information for which you otherwise would need a computer or filing cabinet? This can include mobile physician desk references and tablet video tutorials that explain procedures and results to patients. Perhaps you want more sophisticated functionality that allows you to access electronic health records, record vital signs and pull up lab results. In this case, scalability (how much the app can hold) and integration (how it relates the data to other sources) are factors.

Healthcare consumers (HCC) also must make functionality decisions. Many patient/consumer healthcare apps allow self-monitoring. Examples include apps that monitor activity, blood pressure and glucose. Fitness monitoring devices such as FitBit have gained in popularity, so it is not a far leap for patients to consider selfmonitoring for other health-related purposes. For example, an app currently is being used for behavior modification as a study outcome requirement for an obesity trial. Healthcare consumer apps also can schedule appointments, provide medication reminders, message their doctors, search clinical trials, house medical records, access disease specific information and list surgery recovery instructions.

Once you have determined what you want your app to do, think about how and where you are going to access it. Consider where you will be when you need to access the information housed in your app. According to a recent survey by the CDC/NCHS, only 41% of office-based physicians in the U.S. have a basic electronic health record (EHR) system, varying significantly by state. As an HCP, access will be important. You will want to ensure your work environment has adequate service and signal strength.

Percentage of office-based physicians with basic EHR systems, 2013
The national average percentage of physicians with systems meeting the criteria of a basic electronic health record system was 48% in 2013. Nine states had significantly higher percentages of EHR systems, while eight states ranked significantly lower.
 
Highest nine states Lowest eight states
North Dakota 82.9% New Jersey 21.2%
Minnesota 75.5% Connecticut 30.0%
Massachusetts 70.6% Nevada 33.0%
Wisconsin 67.9% Oklahoma 36.9%
Iowa 65.5% West Virginia 36.9%
Utah 65.5% Vermont 37.0%
Oregon 64.9% Wyoming 37.1%
Washington 60.6% Maryland 37.1%
South Dakota 58.1%    
 
Note: Significance tested at p < 0.05.
 
Source: CDC/NCHS, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, Electronic Health Records Survey
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db143.htm

As an HCC, would you check in to your doctor’s appointment via an app? Would you access your private, HIPAA-protected medical records in unsecured public spaces? Or does convenience outweigh security? Many apps are innovative and convenient but, before downloading them, imagine the information exchange in your everyday life.

The cost of the app does not necessarily refer to just the monetary price; it encompasses the entire worth, value and cost. While many healthcare apps are free to download, others cost money. According to ihealthbeat.org, 90% of healthcare aps are free to download and the other 10% cost as little as $3 or less. Inspect this closely, because free often can mean a free trial for a specific period of time.

But the real cost involves healthcare participants totally shifting their thinking. Most of us are conditioned to call our physician to make an appointment; healthcare apps can totally transform this scenario. According to USA Today, “Less than a decade ago, nine out of 10 U.S. doctors updated their patients’ records by hand and stored them in color-coded files.” Apps will change how patients provide information to their physicians about their health. Video medical appointments easily could become a healthcare trend, as now almost half of all office-based U.S. physicians use some type of electronic file for patient records.

As both healthcare and technology evolve, consider trying some healthcare apps and assessing them on your own. The healthcare apps being developed today will have a positive impact on the efficiency of medical care. We are truly at the beginning of an exciting trend, and there are some wonderful apps that can get you started.

Ashley Tointon directs patient engagement programs at ePharmaSolutions, combining traditional methods with innovative, data-driven techniques to provide sponsors high-impact, cost-effective recruitment and retention programs. She has more than 18 years of patient recruitment and project management experience supporting clinical trials and the pharmaceutical industry.

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