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Mobile health goes mainstream


Health plans and providers are working with tech companies to make sure that the digital experience is as smooth and engaging as online shopping.

SchmulandWhile technology used to be an accessory to the healthcare experience, in today’s world, it’s a requirement. Health plans and providers are working with tech companies to make sure that the digital experience is as smooth and engaging as online shopping.

“We believe that the provider industry has the most to gain from a mobile-first, cloud-first world because, compared to every other industry, providers are more mobile, fragmented, collaborative, and regulated,” says Dennis Schmuland, M.D., FAAFP, chief health strategy officer of U.S. Health & Life Sciences for Microsoft Corp., and Managed Healthcare Executive editorial advisor. Microsoft is collaborating with Kaiser Permanente and Cognizant to create mobile technology that links patient data with clinicians, with aims of reducing the cost of care.

“Mobile and cloud computing can support every one of those issues better than on-premise devices and software can,” Schmuland says.

OlenzakConsumers are becoming more aware of and open to mobile apps that can help them track their health information. As health plans team up with tech companies to maximize the mobile app experience for patients and providers, they are also harvesting usable data.

“Mobile technology is an important enabler toward the vision of members being able to manage their health when, where, and how they want,” says Tom Olenzak, director of Innovation at Independence Blue Cross. Independence and Penn Medicine has partnered with DreamIt Health, a health tech startup, since 2013. The collaboration has developed 19 companies that are creating innovative digital health solutions.

“That being said, mobile is an important tool, but we need to recognize that it is a means to the end of developing more effective and efficient care, not an end in and of itself,” Olenzak says.

Growth of mobile apps

There are more than 100,000 Android and iOS health apps, a number that has doubled in 2.5 years, according to the 2014 research2guidance mHealth App Developer survey. Thirty-one percent of those apps manage chronic illness, and 28% track health and fitness.

A recent survey suggests that health plan members who use apps are more satisfied with their providers. Patients who communicated with their health plans were happier with services compared with those who communicated over the phone, according to a survey of more than 30,000 health plan members by J.D. Power. Of all the health plans studied, Kaiser Permanente, which has more than 1 million downloads, topped satisfaction ratings.

Related:The hidden risk of mHealth apps

“Health plans need to take a more customer-centric approach and keep their members engaged through regular communications about programs and services available through their plan. When members perceive their plan as a trusted health partner, there is a positive impact on loyalty and advocacy,” said Rick Johnson, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power.

Though many health plans have mobile apps that serve as a patient portal, there is huge potential for health plan-run apps to play a bigger role in patients’ lives. Mobile apps have been proven to increase patient adherence to prescription drugs, assist patients in establishing personal control over chronic disease management, and help reduce readmissions when patients are prescribed mobile monitoring apps, according to a 2014 whitepaper by MobileSmith. By 2017, it is estimated that 69% of health apps will provide and market healthcare services, including urgent, outpatient and wellness care, according to the research2guidance report.

“The breakthrough opportunities will come with the technology innovations that empower clinicians and consumers, rather than burdening them,” Schmuland says. “Technology needs to empower clinicians to work together in patient-centered teams, wherever they are and while on the move, by connecting them not just to information but also to the people, insights and processes they need to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.”


NEXT: Mainstream recognition


Mainstream recognition

In March, for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged three digital health platforms that manage the onset of diabetes and lower healthcare costs: Omada Health, Noom Health and DPS Health. And Apple, Inc. recently released ResearchKit, an open-source platform that allows the use of iPhone’s GPS system, microphone, accelerometer, and other features to develop secure healthcare and medical apps.

“As the strategy evolves, there are opportunities to start to incorporate elements unique to mobile, for example enabling location-based provider locators,” Olenzak says. “Eventually, mobile becomes a part of a plan’s member engagement strategy, fully integrated into other channels but also fully utilizing some of the unique features of the mobile platform.”

Olenzak says that hundreds of Independence associates and several senior executives have worked on the DreamIt programs to ensure that regulations and patient security are a priority.

Related:The Internet of (Health) Things

“One area we are extremely careful about is that of patient safety and privacy,” Olenzak says. “We end up spending a lot of time with these startups helping them understand and comply with all the regulations and standards necessary to protect patient safety and data. It’s a big investment, but a necessary one if we are going to experiment with these new ideas.”

Third-party websites, excessive mobile app permissions and third-party code libraries used to shorten app development time are the top threats to patient data, according to a December 2014 survey of health insurers by RiskIQ, a digital risk-assessment company.

“New competitive pressures in healthcare are forcing insurance providers to expand their web and mobile self-service assets, which opens up new attack vectors for targeting customers that use them,” said Elias Manousos, chief executive officer of RiskIQ.

Schmuland suggests that health plans looking to broaden their digital footprint start small and leverage the economic and speed advantage of the cloud to improve existing technology.

“As health systems move toward continuum-based payment, their workforce must be more mobile, or virtual. And they must find ways to share more and communicate more with external entities with less risk, less complexity and at a lower cost,” Schmuland says. “Most healthcare organizations want to reserve the right to public, private, or hybrid cloud operations in addition to, rather than instead of, their on premise operations. They need the reassurance that if at any time they decide to move from the cloud back to on-premise, they can.”

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