The app economy — the term used to describe the economic activity created by the app market — has proven to be a disruptive force over the last few years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, according to one recent report, revenue created by the app economy is expected to double within the next three years to a projected $101 billion.
And according to the recent “State of the App Economy” report from the App Association, the app economy is poised to remain a major force in employment (68 percent of app development companies have open positions) and a driver of small business success. 82 percent of top app companies are actually small businesses located outside of the Silicon Valley.
While, until recently, gaming apps were the fastest growing segment of the app economy, there has been a marked shift in the last year or two toward growth in other sectors. While finance, travel, and retail each represent a substantial portion of the app economy, perhaps the most dominant force going forward will be healthcare.
By the end of 2017, the overall market revenue from health apps is projected to hit $26 billion. That number is only set to increase, give that 86 percent of clinicians believe that apps will be a central part of the healthcare delivery system by 2020.
All this growth is great for those involved in the app economy, but the bigger question is how it is transforming healthcare. After all, this much growth doesn’t take place in a vacuum. How has the app economy changed healthcare — and what will it do in the future?
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Using Apps in Healthcare
Picture this: You aren’t feeling well and need to see your doctor. So, using your smartphone, you log in to a secure app and request an appointment at your preferred day and time. A few moments later, you get a text confirming your appointment. Before you even leave the comfort of your home, you complete all the necessary paperwork, detailing your symptoms and updating your insurance and payment information, in the app.
When you arrive, the doctor uses a tablet to review your medical record and your symptoms. Once he or she determines a diagnosis, she orders the prescription from your preferred pharmacy and schedules a follow-up, before you even leave the room. And because you’ve connected your fitness tracker to your medical app, your doctor can see that you’ve been doing your part to stay healthy – averaging 10,000 steps per day, working out regularly, and eating right – so she gives you a high five and tells you to keep up the good work.
Later, from home, you can log in and view your medical records, and when you learn that you need to see a specialist, you can request records, view test results, and ask for a referral right from the app.
Sound simple? No? Well it can be. In fact, thanks to apps, electronic medical records (EMR / EHRs), and mobile devices, scenarios like this are playing out all over the country – and streamlining office visits and improving patient access to their medical information are only the beginning.
For example, remote monitoring apps, used in home healthcare, as well as in hospital and outpatient environments, are already a major part of the mobile health landscape; this year alone, revenue for remote monitoring is expected to reach $46 billion. Telehealth is another area that’s seeing explosive growth. Thanks to apps like Doctor on Demand and MDLive, patients in some states can experience an affordable doctor’s visit without even leaving home. For minor ailments, such app-based services save time and money.
How Apps are Changing Healthcare
Apps are not only changing how care is delivered, but also the very foundation of the healthcare industry. For instance:
The app economy creates jobs. Again, many app developers are hiring, and pay well. Apps have created an entirely new segment of employment for medical professionals, from those shifting into healthcare app design to actual providers seeing patients via app or vetting medical information.
Apps change security approaches. One of the more challenging aspects of the healthcare app economy is maintaining security, and more specifically, compliance with HIPAA regulations. Not all health apps are bound by HIPAA rules, but anything created by or for a healthcare provider or other covered entity is, and must be secured as such. Concerns about security are chief among those who are slow to adopt apps.
Apps are changing what it means to be “engaged.” Despite there being more than 150,000 health-related apps available, the fact is, many are rarely, if ever, used. A successful app does more than just engage a patient; it also activates the patient to take a role in his or her care. Successful app development requires building stronger provider patient relationships and understanding the app goals, and finding the tools that will resonate most with patients.
In the current healthcare environment that values quality over quantity, and bases reimbursements on outcomes rather than the number of visits, apps can be useful tools for providers and patients alike. While some sectors of the healthcare industry have been slower to adopt mobile health and apps, the fact is that it is here to stay and will continue to transform how we give and receive healthcare.
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