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Does Every Health System Need a Mobile App?

Mobile app iStock 000029314918 Large

A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with a physician who is part of a hospital-owned medical group. We sat down to discuss how the physicians as a group can become more involved in the information technology decision-making process. The physician came prepared with a list of concerns, and one of the first things he said was, “Our Web site stinks, and we need a mobile app[lication].”

It came as a shock to the medical group administrator present that these issues were among the highest-priority items on the physician’s list. The physician explained that some of his patients don’t have computers, but every one of them has a mobile phone, and in most cases, that phone is a smartphone.

National data collected by the PEW Research Center supports his observation; 91% of American adults report owning cell phones, while only 58% own a desktop computer and 61% own a laptop. As a population, more often than not, we are monitoring our e-mail, doing our banking, and finding a good restaurant using the tiny computers we keep in our pockets.

Trends also show that patients are seeking health information and are ready to engage with healthcare experts and/or providers online; 59% of adults have looked online for health information in the past year. Many of those individuals have later booked an appointment at their provider’s office to discuss a condition that was self-diagnosed based on online information.

Source: PEW Study, Health Online 2013.

The provider requesting a mobile app and a better Web site believes online patient engagement is important, and he’s far from being the only one to push for this emerging care model. As a part of the Meaningful Use incentive program, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring providers to increase engagement with patients online.

Even with an abundance of evidence pointing to a long-term necessity for Web and mobile engagement, the decision to create a mobile app should not be made lightly. A well-designed and effective app has the opportunity to create a strategic advantage, while an app that provides no real value to patients will cause frustration and reduce trust.

The table below shows several broad areas of consideration and a number of details to take into account when deciding to create a mobile app for your hospital, health system, or provider group. This is far from being an exhaustive list, but it should provide some insight with regard to engaging patients through those tiny computers we keep in our pockets.

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