“There’s an app for that.”
It’s true: there is an app for almost everything these days — and healthcare is no different. By some estimates, there are more than 100,000 different health and medical related apps, with more to come. And an ever-increasing number of these applications are specific to individual medical providers or provider groups, developed specifically for the patients of that practice.
According to one survey, nearly half of healthcare professionals plan to add an application to their practice at some point in the next year. From gathering more information about their patients to helping patients take more responsibility for their own health and improving the quality of care, healthcare providers believe that an app can make a significant difference both to their practices and their patients’ overall health.
However, while it might be easy to jump on the bandwagon of an app for your practice simply because it seems like everyone else is doing it, it’s important to consider some of the major reasons doctors are adopting healthcare apps – and more importantly, if it is right for your practice.
What an App Can Do for You
For starters, let’s take a look at what a mobile app can potentially do for your practice:
- Offer easy appointment booking and confirmation for patients
- Provide a patient portal to access to health records, lab results, diagnosis, prescription information, and other important data
- Allow for prescription refill requests
- Offer a secure payment portal for patients to pay bills
- Allow patients to pre-register (i.e., provide important personal information, medical history, and concerns prior to an appointment)
- Allow patients to self-report data related to diet, exercise, vital signs, and more for the management of chronic conditions
- Offer access to additional content; some physicians have offered paid subscriptions to content to create an additional revenue stream
By providing these services via a smartphone, your practice could see increased efficiencies, particularly in the management of patient health data and documentation, as well as improved patient engagement. In fact, a growing number of healthcare professionals are arguing that a mobile patient portal — most likely in the form of an app — is the next step in improved patient engagement, as it allows patients and providers to interact and share information when and where it is convenient for them. By essentially opening the lines of communication outside of the traditional visit, patients can build stronger relationships with their physicians, which is proven to improve clinical outcomes and encourage sustained engagement.
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Physicians also point out that when they can collect patient-generated data in real time, not only does it improve the management of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, it also improves the patient’s own engagement in managing those conditions. Since the vast majority of medical care takes place outside of the provider’s office, it only makes sense to open those lines of communication.
Still Unanswered Questions
While an app for your practice undoubtedly has the potential to benefit both your patients and your efficiency and effectiveness as a physician, there are still some unanswered questions that must be addressed before jumping in with both feet.
While it might seem like everyone has and uses a smartphone, that’s not the case. Depending on where you practice, your specialty, and your patient mix, you may have patients who are uncomfortable with technology or do not have access to it due to economic or geographic factors. How will you engage patients who do not have a smartphone or want to work with an app?
Integrating a mobile app with an electronic health record (EHR) should be strongly considered, as it’s inefficient and cumbersome to operate two separate systems, and adds an unnecessary burden to your staff. But by integrating a mobile app with your EHR software, suddenly clinicians and office staff can access and input data on the go. How will your app be integrated into the EHR system for a seamless workflow?
Clearly, security is a major concern with anything mobile, and you need to determine whether the two-way communication between you and your patients is HIPAA / HITECH compliant, and how the app will protect patient data. For example, how will you protect patient data when the app is accessed on a public or unsecured network? What will that mean for your EHR system?
Managing the App
Another important question to consider is who will manage the app, and how will it be managed? What happens if the application stops working or has bugs? What about updates? Addressing these issues is important, to prevent issues with miscommunication or incorrect information.
Developing an app for your practice can provide significant benefits, but it’s not something that can be thrown together and left to operate on its own. You must carefully examine the risks and rewards, understand what it means for your ability to care for your patients, and set appropriate expectations about what the app can and cannot do. As more apps reach the marketplace, more best practices will emerge, but in the meantime, don’t be afraid to consider the possibility of an app for your patients.
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