Mobile apps are disrupting the way healthcare is being delivered resulting in a more consumer-centric model of delivery as well as a more collaborative means of providing health services.
With mobile apps, consumers are essentially forcing a digital relationship with their healthcare providers.
Consumers can now receive professional healthcare 24×7 in real-time in the comfort of their own homes. Doctors can easily treat patients from any location and conveniently collaborate with their peers to ensure the best patient diagnosis and treatment.
The wonders of modern healthcare — digital hospitals and remote diagnosis
Impressive achievements in healthcare are happening which leverage modern technology. For instance, digital hospitals such as the Humber River Hospital in Toronto Canada and the Medical Center at Mission Bay San Francisco USA have opened.
Digital hospitals are enabling sustainable healthcare
Digital hospitals provide services and capabilities geared to enabling a better patient experience and to ensure cost-effective healthcare. Some innovations include the following:
- In the radiology department, robots can position the patient during an X-ray procedure
- In the chemotherapy area, robots can mix drugs as prescribed by doctors. The medicines packaged by the robots have a barcode that is scanned and checked by hospital staff prior to patient administration. Medicine management software enables accurate counts, precise organization and checking of expiration dates of all medicines to ensure that patients get the correct treatment
- Hospital beds are equipped with touchpads that patients use to view their records and medical charts, adjust room temperature according to their liking, make phone calls, play video games and watch television.
- Eve is one of 25 autonomous robots programmed to help the staff of Medical Center at Mission Bay. Eve and its comrades cruise the corridors and elevators bringing supplies to and from the pharmacy, kitchen, laboratory and stock rooms.
Beyond the digital hospitals, innovations in medical technologies enable remote diagnosis and treatment of patients.
Remote medical diagnosis via haptics
Deakin University Australia, in partnership with Telstra Australia, has developed haptics-enabled robots that can perform ultrasound diagnostics remotely. The patient no longer needs to be in the same place as the sonographer conducting the ultrasound.
A principal advantage of this system is the ability to translate the sense of touch to the operator. Haptic feedback allows an operator to feel and experience the remote environment, through the robotic system, as though they were interacting with it directly. The addition of stereovision can improve operator situational awareness by giving the operator depth perception, which also contributes to the accuracy and efficiency of the ultrasound.
Such telehealth technology improves access to diagnostics tools for Australians living in regional and remote parts of Australia with limited access to medical resources.
Whilst digital hospitals and telehealth medical devices have their advantages, they are expensive and take time to build. On the other hand, mobile apps are here and ready to meet the needs of healthcare stakeholders.
Mobile apps are revolutionising healthcare
What is unfolding around the world in healthcare is a true disruption…that is, the use of mobile apps which put the power of real-time analysis and 24×7 doctoring in the hands of each person whether they are a healthcare professional, a patient or simply a consumer.
Apps on your smartphone are changing the way healthcare is being delivered by its professionals as well as your expectations of how you view your own, and your family’s, healthcare management.
The future of healthcare is now being driven by the consumer
As of November 2015, there were 165,000 mobile healthcare apps. The mobile app marketplace is growing at least 15 times faster than internet usage. That’s quite amazing.
Also, surveys indicate consumers now expect digital healthcare services. They expect to be able to communicate with their doctors via their smartphone at any time of day, make appointments, monitor their own health, share medical results and collaborate with all their healthcare specialists easily and directly.
Of course, this enforces changes in the ways that hospitals and doctor offices engage and interact with their patients and eventually, the way they price the digital healthcare services. This in turn will impact health insurance and the cost of medical supplies and so on.
Mobile app healthcare business
The mobile app disruption also means there are now new revenue streams available to healthcare stakeholders. For instance, US$26b is anticipated in 2017 and it’s growing at over $10b per annum!
The source of revenue is not the app download itself but the services and hardware sales that result from using the app. For instance, most revenue from an app comes from service sales (such as remote consulting) followed by pay per download, device sales, in-app advertising and in-app purchases (such as medicines).
Who is developing the mobile apps?
Surprisingly, providers of mobile apps in healthcare are coming from new sources other than software companies.
Those new sources include advanced medical technology companies, hospitals, IT companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers who are seeking to improve their direct engagement with patients (as well as generate new streams of revenue).
Many mobile apps are coming from developing countries to fill gaps in their healthcare systems and enable their doctors.
In essence, these mobile app developer companies are now creating their own digital visions for collaborative healthcare and implementing them to be closer to their clients and patients. It makes for a quicker, easier and real-time approach to healthcare.
Mobile apps are generating big data
Mobile apps provide access to considerable medical data (such as medical reference libraries) and they in turn, create considerable data (such as a patient’s electronic record or daily monitoring of a consumer’s health indicators). Wearables (such as Fitbit) constantly monitor a consumer’s fitness which involves saving the data.
As consumers become aware of the many mobile apps available and what they can do for their health and well-being, usage will evolve faster resulting in more data. Eventually, the data collected by mobile apps will become a very valuable asset for the medical industry.
That data will enable innovative ways of advancing research and improving clinical outcomes as well as the visualisation and analytics resulting from such diverse data sets.
Mobile apps are enabling new industry stakeholders
Mobile apps are not only changing the way hospitals and doctors engage with and interact with patients but they open up opportunities for other stakeholders to do such. Academic researchers, pharmaceutical companies, device companies, insurance organisations, care co-ordinators, pharmacists, patients themselves and telecommunications companies can be enabled to engage and share health-related information and services directly. Telstra Australia and IBM for instance have made significant investments and forays into healthcare.
An example of monitoring your daily health via an app
I wanted to explore how much of my health I could monitor using apps. So I chose urine testing which is something you would normally have done at a doctor’s office to test for a variety of complaints.
With a mobile app, I found that you can monitor, on a daily basis, ten indicators concerning your urine such as pH level, specific gravity, ketones and so on.
For instance, Siemens makes Multistix 10SG which are reagent strips for urine analysis that you place in a cup of urine. The indictors turn colours to indicate their values. BME Innovations has a mobile app (Urinalysis) which photographs the strip, analyses it and provides a daily comparative report for you of all the indicators. This is such an easy way for a family to monitor its daily health.
And, if you want more information about the readings, you can download Siemens app (UA Guide) for medical descriptions regarding the urine analysis. This enables you to improve your education about urine analysis.
Why use an app instead of mobile web?
There are at least three good reasons as to why you would use an app in preference to going to web sites:
- An app does unique things the internet can’t do for you
- Information is pushed to you rather than having to search for it saving you considerable time
- The app has context for your needs which in turn knows what you want or expect from it.
For instance, the above urine analysis app (coupled with the reagent sticks) provides urine testing that isn’t possible just accessing a web site from your smartphone. Using the internet, you can search for information about how to do urine analysis. But using an app (such as Urinanalysis), you can easily photograph, record and monitor your urine as often as you wish and keep a history of such. This can be quite important for monitoring daily health especially if there are kidney weaknesses.
With an app, information is pushed to you rather than having to find the time to search for that information. For instance, let’s say I want to search for information concerning the aspect of specific gravity of my urine. Using the internet, I’d search for hours and waste a lot of time going to medical sites and I’d be confronted with unwanted ads and information that aren’t relevant to me in hope of finding what I need.
With an app though (such as Read by QxMD), I can tell it to notify me of any specific gravity urine articles each day. Using the app, it only took me about a minute to set up compared to the daily hours of searching the internet that I’d have to do if I didn’t have the app.
An app is dedicated to my particular needs and can predict what I want from the context. For instance, in the Urinanalysis app, I see no ads and it automatically tracks and reports on my daily readings. And I didn’t have to set that up; those benefits were provided automatically by the app. Nor did I have to pay for it (other than buying the reagent strips).
Examples of the variety of mobile apps in healthcare
There are wonderful mobile apps from around the world that empower the consumer and health professional. Here is a sample of the range of mobile apps concerning all aspects of healthcare management.
App for monitoring family health at home: CliniCloud
The CliniCloud app and company from Melbourne Australia enables you to take control of your family’s health. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, physician, or simply want to track your own health, CliniCloud empowers you to record, analyse and share medical data.
Using a digital stethoscope and non-contact thermometer, the app can take readings (with the stethoscope connected to your smart phone) and keep records of those readings.
It enables you to record every cough, wheeze, fever or chill and save that data securely to your smartphone. Body temperature, as well as heart and lung sounds, can be recorded, stored on the app and sent to the family doctor. Baseline metrics show you if any reading is out of the norm. And you are reminded at time intervals to re-take the readings.
Recordings from the CliniCloud devices form personalized medical records for you and your family and is a secure way to remember everything.
A YouTube video shows the benefits of CliniCloud.
CliniCloud helps you digitise the relationship with your doctor. If you choose so, the app can generate a link that anonymises the health data (and expires after four hours) to send via text or email to you doctor.
CliniCloud partners with Doctor On Demand, a U.S. company and app that allows patients to pay for video visits with doctors over their smartphone or browser.
App for remote doctoring: MyOnlineClinic
MyOnlineClinic from TeleMedicine Australia turns digital devices such as a computer, smart-phones and tablets into a portable medical clinic. You, as a patient, can interact with MyOnlineClinic’s healthcare providers from almost anywhere in the world to receive healthcare management and advice.
Prescriptions, blood tests and x-rays are transferred online. Results of blood tests and radiology investigations are provided online and made available to the doctors.
Patients and doctors have access to a 24×7 help-desk available from anywhere in the world. You have control over your own securely held patient history and records.
Telstra Australia is working on a similar app, called ReadyCare. Whilst it is developing the app, the services are already available.
ReadyCare is a convenient way to speak to a GP (general practitioner doctor) anytime, anywhere. You can talk to a doctor in Australia, via phone 24×7 and receive advice, diagnosis, prescriptions, care and treatment for a wide range of conditions and illnesses. It complements the care provided by your regular GP during those hours and situations when a traditional GP usually isn’t available.
ReadyCare directly employs fully accredited Australian based GPs registered with AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) and members of the professional colleges of GPs. They receive training on telemedicine protocols and communication and Telstra performs clinical auditing of calls, followed up with peer review and feedback. They also undertake customer satisfaction surveys to inform performance management of their doctors.
App for finding a doctor: Amino
San Francisco-based start-up, Amino Health, has developed a tool to connect patients with a local provider who is their “best match” based on patient-defined criteria. If you want to find a female doctor who is great with young patients in your local area and is an expert in a particular type of cancer, it can inform you of such doctors.
For instance, consider a patient who suffers from a blood disorder called hemochromatosis. In the past, he struggled to find a doctor in his area and within his insurer’s network who had treated patients with his condition. In order to find out that information, he’d need to call up each doctor individually and ask.
Now it just takes him a few minutes to find a doctor according to his criteria.
Amino’s focus is to track the actual activities of healthcare: the actual experience doctors have; the actual prices they charge; and the real experiences of patients. The company is analysing a massive volume of data to rank doctors based on how many patients they’ve treated with a particular symptom, ailment, or condition.
App for accessing latest medical information: Read by QxMD
from Read by QxMD Medical Software Inc. USA, is dedicated to creating high quality, point-of-care tools for practising healthcare professionals. The Read by QxMD app centralises all medical literature and journal access. It provides a single place to keep up with new medical and scientific research, to Read by QxMD topic reviews and to search PubMed (medical databases).
Read by QxMD’s simple interface drives discovery and seamless access to the medical literature by reformatting it into a personalized digital journal. It allows you to read and download studies, journals, and articles from a host of sources including open access journals, Pubmed, and papers from linked institutions.
It can notify you when an article has been published anywhere in the world on a particular topic (such as specific gravity in urine analysis).
App for cancer screening: Sepsis
Sepsis was produced by the Scottish Centre for Enabling Technologies, based at the University of the West of Scotland. This app has been developed in partnership with health professionals and patients.
The app makes it easier and quicker for doctors, pharmacists and senior nurses to access information on referral for those suspected of having cancer. It provides step-by-step walkthrough to evaluate symptoms.
Dr Douglas Rigg, a Glasgow GP who was involved in the development of the app, said:
The app brings us quick access to information to support clinical decision-making … Mobile devices are becoming an integral part of GPs’ equipment and apps like this are part of the future of primary care and for GPs keeping knowledge up to date.
App for networking doctors: Curofy
Made by Curofy in Haryana, India, this app enables India’s largest community of verified doctors to interact, discuss patient cases and provide advice to each other enabling them to improve treatment for their patients.
Curofy is an exclusive networking app for doctors. It helps doctors stay up to date in their practice and collaborate on patient cases. In less than one year of its launch, the app has more than 45,000 doctors who are using it. The app has more than 50,000 medical cases discussed each month.
Curofy is creating an ecosystem for doctors that can help them discuss cases, read daily news based on their interest area, get jobs related to what they are doing and acquire peer-to-peer help.
On a typical week a doctor spends 25 minutes on the app and that is likely to grow significantly each year.
App for remote care team monitoring patient: Intellivue CareGiver
Philips’ IntelliVue CareGiver app offers mobile access to patient monitoring information from virtually anywhere. It delivers timely information to care teams, wherever they are, enabling critical response for high-quality care.
Clinicians are constantly on the go and Intellivue CareGiver enables the patient’s information to travel with them. It allows for retrieval of physiological and historical data from any location to aid decision making. The care team is alerted to alarms and the flow and order of care can be managed via the app.
App for continuing education of doctors: MyCPD
This app has been designed for all licensed doctors who are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK.
GMC’s MyCPD app for doctors lets them keep a record of their learning. The GP can maintain as many learning activities as they wish and categorise them according to good medical practice domains and the GP’s personal development plan objectives.
A GP can assign CPD (continuing professional development) credits to activities and keep an eye on activities recorded during appraisal year. The GP can export any or all of their learning activities from this app to another system.
Gone are the days of having to store hundreds of certificates from conferences and seminars – a GP can take a picture with their device and append certificates to the learning activity on the app.
GPs can share learnings via the app. There is a hot topics section which highlights potential learning opportunities.
App for linking doctors and patients: MyChart
MyChart enables patients and doctors to communicate with each other (related to test results, treatments, bills, and appointments). It has been developed by Epic Systems Corporation, WI. USA.
MyChart enables individual patients to have a direct communication channel with their health care providers.
Patients can check test results, track medical treatments and immunizations, pay medical bills, manage appointments, access family health information and upload health and fitness data from other health-tracking apps.
The apps described above are but a few of the 165,000 mobile healthcare apps available. Consumers and healthcare professionals are still to discover them.
Challenges for healthcare mobile app growth
Whilst there is an amazing array of mobile apps, there are challenges facing the rate of growth of this industry – challenges that can all be addressed over time. Some challenges are the following:
- Discoverability: the consumer is still to discover the marvellous world of healthcare-related mobile apps; app discoverability isn’t obvious to the consumer. They aren’t advertised in the usual channels such as TV nor on-line. The consumer often accidentally discovers them in an app store or on a particular web site
- Security and privacy of data: hacking of apps and privacy of data are always a concern for apps in general. This is why guidelines are needed for mobile apps and possibly regulation and certification of particular high-risk medical apps
- Regulation of medical devices: medical technology associations have released practice guides (reference 17) for mobile app developers and have standards as to what constitutes a medical device requiring regulation. For instance, software in a smart phone that measures blood glucose levels and body temperature could be considered as requiring regulation to ensure fit-for-purpose. At some stage, a professional organisation is likely to consider certification needs for mobile apps
- Doctors’ livelihoods: doctors are concerned that patient visits will be reduced due to apps resulting in possibly a lower quality of care. Experience so far indicates that mobile apps enable consumers to become more sensitive to health indicators resulting actually in more doctor engagements whether in-person or via digital device
- Unqualified medical advice: mobile apps could provide medical advice that is not valid or could enable access to phony doctors. How is a consumer to know whether information on an app is medically sound or whether the virtual doctor they speak to via their device is a qualified doctor? This is a concern in general with mobile apps and could be addressed over time via certification of mobile apps and/or doctors providing such services
- Transformation into digital: existing non-digital hospitals and doctor practices need to be transformed. This will require technology upgrades in hardware, software and infrastructure as well as developing digital and mobile visions and strategies in existing and new areas such as those shown in Figure 1. While new digital hospitals take about 5 years to build, existing hospitals take about 10 years to digitally transform.
Conversational commerce and sharing
In-line with mobile apps, technology is enabling the consumers to become a part of health sharing communities such as Patients Like Me.
As mobile app usage explodes, apps will broaden their reach by connecting to other apps. And features of apps will eventually be integrated into basic communications such as chat facilities (like texting). This is the notion of conversational commerce.
Conversational commerce is based on the concept that since most users spend the majority of their time sending messages and using social media, it makes sense to integrate everyday activities right into that social activity.
For instance, switching apps, searching for products and services and entering user information and payment details over and over again is time-consuming and difficult to do whilst on the move. Conversational commerce offers enterprises a ripe opportunity to leverage the social chat platforms and streamline the user experience. Healthcare discussions seem a natural choice for conversational commerce.
Healthcare industry is undergoing radical transformation
Expectations in healthcare for all stakeholders are changing whether they are doctors, governments, professional associations, insurers, employers, providers, patients or consumers. The way healthcare is delivered is being impacted by new technologies and mobile apps.
The world is shifting to a patient-centric care model driven in large by the advent of the technologies and the mobile connected expectations of the consumer as well as the need to improve efficiencies and enable sustainable and affordable healthcare.
The ideal health service
Healthcare is really a collaborative activity: between patient and doctor, between hospital staff, and between the hospital and the surrounding healthcare ecosystem.
Mobile apps are addressing the gaps in such collaboration as well as improving the consumer’s experience in healthcare.
As consumers and healthcare professionals become familiar with trusted apps, the collaboration will only increase placing more demands on infrastructure, services, processes, business models, staff training and funding models.
The point-of-care for a patient now extends beyond the doctor’s office and the hospital room into the home. And 24×7 doctoring anywhere is the ideal service we need and it is now possible.
Being prepared for mobility
The Frame Group helps organisations to technologically transform so that they can recast and implement their digital and mobile visions. Transformation requires knowledgeable and experienced leadership that can align the vision with the business model and technical architecture, and effectively deploy that vision while adapting the culture.
Businesses cannot move forward without focused digital and mobile strategies, and those with more advanced deployments are jumping ahead of their competitors.