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Too Many Healthcare Apps

Posted on May 4, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As we all know, if we want something, there’s probably an app for that. From head to toe, from bank to restaurant to club, in most places in the world, there’s probably an app to meet your needs.

Apple is rightly lauded for its contribution in this area. While it didn’t invent the smart phone as such — early devices mashing together PDAs and connected computing preceded the march of i-Everything by some time — but obviously, it popularized this technology and made it usable to virtually everyone, and for that it deserves the kudos it has gotten.

But as we work to build mobile healthcare models, I’d argue, the notion of there being an app for each need is falling flat. Healthcare organizations are creating, and clinicians prescribing, targeted apps for every healthcare niche, but consumers aren’t showing a lot of interest in them.

Healthcare consumers have shown interest in a subsection of health app categories. According to a study completed last year, almost two-thirds of Americans would use a mobile app to manage health issues. The study, the Makovsky/Kelton “Pulse of Online Health” survey, found that their top interests included tracking diet/nutrition (47%), medication reminders (46%), tracking symptoms (45%) and tracking physical activity (44%).

But other research suggests that consumers aren’t that enthused about other categories of healthcare apps. For example, a recent study by HealthMine concluded that while 59% of the 500 respondents it surveyed had chronic conditions, only 7% used digital disease management tools.

I’ve made the following argument before, but I think it’s worth making again. From what I’ve observed, in talking to both providers and patients, the notion of developing a multitude of apps covering specialized needs is a failed strategy, reflecting the interests of the healthcare industry far more than patients. And as a result, patients are staying away in droves.

From what I’ve observed, it appears that healthcare organizations are developing specialized apps because a) that strategy mirrors the way they are organized internally or b) they’re trying to achieve specific outcomes (such as a given average blood sugar level among diabetics). So they build apps that reflect how they collect and manage data points within their business.

The problem is, consumers don’t care what a facility or clinician’s goals are, unless those goals overlap with their own. They certainly don’t want to open a new app every time they take on a new health concern. And that sucks the benefit right out of app-creation efforts by healthcare providers. After all, aren’t people with multiple conditions the expensive patients we’d most like to target?

What’s more, apps designed to capture data aren’t terribly motivating. Clinicians may live or die on the numbers, but unless those numbers come with a realistic path to action, they will soon be ignored, and the app discarded. Consider the humble bathroom scale. For most people, that one data point isn’t particularly helpful, as it says nothing about where to go from there. So people generally give up when they’re neither motivated nor taught by the apps they download.

To be successful with mobile healthcare, providers and clinicians will need to back the development of apps which guide and sustain users, rather than turn them into data entry clerks.  It’s not clear what should replace the current generation, but we need to turn to a more patient-centric model. Otherwise, all our efforts will be wasted.

Health Organizations Failing At Digital Health Innovation

Posted on May 3, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Few healthcare providers are prepared to harvest benefits from digital health innovations, a new study suggests. The study, by innovation consultancy Enspektos LLC, concludes that digital health innovation efforts are fairly immature among healthcare organizations, despite the enormous wave of interest in these technologies.

While this should come as no surprise to those of us working in the industry, it’s a little depressing for those of us — including myself — who passionately believe that digital health tools have the potential to transform the delivery of care. But it also reminds providers to invest more time and effort in digital health efforts, at least if they want to get anything done!

The study, which was sponsored by healthcare IT vendor Validic, chose 150 survey participants working at health organizations (hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, payers) or their partners (technology firms, startups and the like) and asked them to rate digital health innovation in the healthcare industry.

The results of this study suggest that despite their high level of interest, many healthcare organizations don’t have the expertise or resources needed to take full advantage of digital health innovations. This tracks well with my own experience, which suggest that digital health efforts by hospitals and clinics are slapdash at best, rolling out apps and doling out devices without thinking strategically about the results they hope to accomplish. (For more data on digital health app failures see this story.)

According to Enspektos, only 5% of health organizations could demonstrate that they were operating at the highest level of proficiency and expertise in digital health innovation. The majority of health organizations worldwide are experimenting with and piloting digital health tools, researchers concluded.

Apparently, digital health is moving slowly even with relatively mature technologies such as mobile platforms. One might think that mobile deployments wouldn’t baffle IT departments, but apparently, many are behind the curve. In fact, health organizations typically don’t have enough technical expertise or large enough budget to scale their digital health efforts effectively, Enspektos researchers found.

Of course, as a digital health technology vendor, Validic is one of many hoping to be the solution to these problems. (It offers a cloud-based technology connecting patient-recorded data from digital health apps, devices and wearables to healthcare organizations.) I’m not familiar with Validic’s products, but their presence in this market does raise a few interesting issues.

Assuming that its measures of digital health maturity are on target, it would seem that health organizations do need help integrating these technologies. The question is whether a vendor such as Validic can be dropped into the technical matrix of a healthcare organization and bring its digital health program to life.

My guess is that no matter how sophisticated an integration platform they deploy, healthcare organizations still have a tremendous amount of work to do in thinking about what they actually want to accomplish. Most of the digital health products I’ve seen from providers, in particular, seem to be solutions in search of a problem, such as apps that have no bearing on the patient’s actual lifestyle and needs.

On the other hand, given how fluid digital health technology is at this point, perhaps vendors will be creating workflow and development models that healthcare organizations can adapt. It remains to be seen who will drive long-term change. Honestly, I’m betting on the vendors, but I hope more healthcare players step up, as I’d like to see them own this thing.

Obstacles To Using Tablets As EMR Front Ends

Posted on December 16, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Not long ago, I recently posted an item on discussing how one hospital dropped plans to distribute iPads as front-ends for its Cerner EMR.  Doctors at hospital, Seattle Children’s, gave the iPad very bad reviews as an EMR-connected device, in part because they felt that Cerner’s system was too hard to use via a Safari browser.

Since then, a few readers have commented on the story, and interestingly, they’ve offered more nuanced feedback on what works (and doesn’t) in deploying a tablet as an EMR device for clinical use, including the following:

* Deploying the iPad initially offers a patient “wow factor” — in other words, it may make providers look hip and up-to-date technically — but that doesn’t last very long.

* Even a well-designed, tablet-native tablet app may still be frustrating for clinicians to use, given the high volume of information they need to enter. (Paging through a dozen screens is no fun.)

* When choosing a tablet, be aware that the physical performance of the tablet (especially the touch screen) can be a big issue.  If clinicians “touch” and the screen doesn’t respond, it can throw them off their stride.

It’s hard to argue that hospitals (and medical practices) should take mobile access to EMRs seriously. And anyone here would know, most organizations are.  After all, now that health IT industry is looking hard at mHealth, smart new ways to use mobile devices in care seem to be springing up daily.

But before you dig too deeply into your mobile strategy, you may want to hear more clinicians on how their mobile EMR usage is playing out. Call me a curmudgeon, but it seems to me that it may still be too early to invest big bucks in a tablet for mobilizing your EMR just yet.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m convinced that someday, every doctor will enter and access patient data via some sort of mobile device. But it seems that there’s some fairly important technical issues that still need to work themselves out before we can say “this is how we should do it.”