Like most Americans, I’ve used many a health-related app, in categories including vitals tracking, weight control, sleep management, medication management and exercise tracking. While I’ve continued to use a few, I’ve dropped most after a few uses because they didn’t contribute anything to my life.
Now, those of you who are reading this might assume that I lost interest in the apps because they were poorly designed. I admit that this was true in some cases. But in others, I’ve ceased to use the apps because the data they collect and display hasn’t been terribly useful, as most of it lives in a vacuum. Sure, I might be able to create line graph of my heart rate or pulse ox level, but that’s mildly interesting at best. (I doubt physicians would find it terribly interesting either.)
That being said, I believe there is a way healthcare organizations can make the app experience more useful. I’d argue that hospitals and clinics, as well as other organizations caring for patients, need to connect with major app developers and synch their data with those platforms. If done right, the addition of outside data would enrich the patient experience dramatically, and hopefully, provide more targeted feedback that would help shape their health behaviors.
How it would work
How would this work? Here’s an example from my own life, as an e-patient who digitally manages a handful of chronic, sometimes-complex conditions.
I have tested a handful of medication management apps, whose interfaces were quite different but whose goals seem to be quite similar — the primary one being to track the date and time each medicine on my regimen was taken. In each case, I could access my med compliance history rather easily, but had no information on what results my level of compliance might have accomplished.
However, if I could have overlaid those compliance results with changes in my med regimen, changes in my vital signs and changes in my lab values, I have a better picture of how all of my health efforts fit together. Such a picture would be far more likely to prompt changes in my health behavior than uncontextualized data points based on my self-report alone.
I should mention that I know of at least one medication management app developer (the inspiration for this essay) which hopes to accomplish just this result already, and is hard at work enriching its platform to make such integration possible. In other words, developers may not need much convincing to come on board.
The benefits of added data
“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but why should I share my proprietary data?” The answer is fairly simple; in the world of value-based reimbursement, you need patients to get and stay well, and helping them better manage their health fits this goal.
Admittedly, achieving this level of synchronization between apps and provider data won’t be simple. However, my guess is that it would be easier for app developers to import, say, pharmacy or EMR data than the other way around. After all, app platforms aren’t at the center of nearly as many overlapping data systems as a health organization or even a clinic. While they might not be starting from zero, they have less bridges to build.
And once providers have synchronized key data with app developers, they might be able to forge long-term partnerships in which each side learned from the exchange. After all, I’d submit that few app developers would turn up the chance to make their data more valuable — at least if they have bigger goals than displaying a few dots on a smartphone screen.
I realize that for many providers, doing this might be a tall order, as they can’t lose their focus on cultivating their own data. But as a patient, I’d welcome working with any provider that wanted to give this a try. I think it would be a real win-win.