Will the app economy force a digital transformation in the healthcare industry?

The relentless innovation and growth of app startups and consumer-driven demand may finally drag the healthcare industry kicking and screaming into the application economy.

Imagine you are sitting in your doctor’s exam room. Your doctor walks in carrying a tablet and she proceeds to check your previous history and medications, and makes some updates to them in real-time. At the end of the visit, she processes a prescription for you for immediate electronic transfer to your preferred pharmacy (also on record) and schedules your next visit.  When you get home 30 minutes later, you log in to your patient portal from your iPhone and see detailed notes already recorded by your doctor from the visit; you remember you forgot to ask her a question and send off a secured e-mail. Later on, you can use the app to review past test results, ask to send electronic copies of diagnostic tests to other specialists, request a referral or download medical information. When you visit other specialists in the network, all your records are right there for them to access.

This is not a vision of the future, it happened to me last month. My health provider has had basic Electronic Health Records (EHR) and a patient portal for at least four years, and iPhone and Android apps for the last two. What is astonishing is how few healthcare organizations are actually doing the same.

The push for nation-wide EHRs

EHRs go beyond the data collected in one doctor’s office (i.e. electronic versions of paper records) to contain and share information from all providers involved in a patient’s care, including hospitals, other specialists, pharmacies, etc.

In 2009,the U.S. Government provided a big push to EHRs by encouraging creation of EHRs with the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which included $19.2 billion to increase the use of EHRs by physicians.  More recently, the Affordable Care Act also specified new rules encouraging EHRs.

Despite these financial incentives and the clear and compelling data that shows effective use of EHRs can save money and lives (see http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/why-adopt-ehrs) adoption has been very slow.  In 2014, only 48% of healthcare provider organizations and physicians had implemented basic EHRs, and the results vary greatly by state – with New Jersey (where I was born, I am sorry to say) hitting the bottom of the list at 21%.

Of course, the obstacles are not to be discounted either and include security concerns, costs, data migration issues, lack of interoperability standards, culture and many more.

The app economy may force the healthcare industry to take action

Like many industries before it, healthcare is garnering significant innovation and attention from mobile app developers.  The mHealth App Developer Economics 2014 report by research2guidance states the number of mobile health apps published on iOS and Android has more than doubled in only two and a half years to more than 100,000 apps in Q1 2014.  The market revenue reached $2.4 billion in 2013 and is projected to grow to $26 billion by the end of 2017.

From fitness apps to real-time health monitoring via body sensors, these apps are collecting several hundred million vital parameters per month. But how will all this data get consolidated and become easily accessible to doctors and patients if healthcare organizations have not put in place the infrastructure (including EHRs) and the front-end apps to support it?  Consumers are going to be increasingly vocal to their doctors in demanding ways they can easily access all their consolidated health data.

Current state of healthcare in the application economy

A recent study conducted by Vanson Bourne (and sponsored by CA Technologies) examined the state of the application economy and what steps organizations across various industries were taking to address the opportunity. The study does not paint a positive picture for healthcare organizations:

  • Only 32% believe their company is being very or extremely affected by the application economy.
  • Only 39% listed “improving the mobile customer experience” in their top 3 security priorities and only 21% listed securing their APIs (often essential to an EHR strategy).
  • Only 37% of healthcare organizations say they released 4 or more customer facing apps last year, as compared to an average for the other industries of 55%.

 

This global survey clearly indicates that the healthcare industry has significant work ahead of it. Beyond the risk of not being able to satisfy consumer expectations, healthcare companies also run the risk of major industry disruption by new digital-based healthcare providers who are entering the market with very different approaches, all enabled through new technology.  Whether they can be as successful in a challenging industry such as healthcare as similar companies in other industries remains to be seen, but established healthcare organizations should be wary and seriously looking at putting in place digital transformation initiatives to position themselves for long-term survival.

After all, while healthcare is certainly not the first industry to be affected by the app economy, in many ways, it may be the most important to our future success and well-being.

For more information on the Vanson Bourne study on the overall application economy, see How to Survive and Thrive in the Application Economy and  “8 Steps to Modernize Security for the Application Economy”, which details the security and API-related data shared above.

You can also tell me what you think here or on Twitter @jackiekahle or LinkedIn.

 

 


Jackie is a 30-year IT industry veteran, holding senior management positions in marketing, business development…

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