A large majority of healthcare organizations have a fully implemented mobile strategy, according to a new survey from open-source software vendor Red Hat.

The online survey of 200 IT decision makers from healthcare organizations in the U.S., France, Germany and the United Kingdom showed 82 percent have put a mobile strategy in place. Researchers say they found a “greater level of maturity” compared to a mobility survey last year by Red Hat, which showed that 52 percent of respondents from across commercial industries indicated they had a fully implemented mobile strategy.

Further, 78 percent of healthcare organizations in the latest survey said they are achieving positive return on investment from their mobile apps.

Chad Holmes, Red Hat’s director of mobile solutions, says this ROI is “strikingly high,” demonstrating the success of their mobile strategies and justifying the investment on these technologies.

Not surprisingly, he said the confidence of the healthcare organizations is reflected in the fact that during the next 12 months, the average number of health apps developed by U.S. respondents will grow 56 percent from an average of nine to 14.

Chad Holmes

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According to U. S. respondents, mobile apps are currently provided primarily for doctors (59 percent), patients/members (55 percent) and technicians (44 percent).

However, the survey also identified challenges in providers’ mobility strategies. In fact, 98 percent of respondents reported concerns over app security, 30 percent of U.S. respondents said their primary security concern was data encryption from device back-end systems, while 29 percent of U.S. respondents identified end-to-end HIPAA compliance as their greatest security concern.

“The security aspect is always going to be there, particularly in healthcare where HIPAA compliance is so critical,” says Holmes. “The other concerns are the technical challenges around development and deployment. People have a horrible time integrating back-end systems.”

In the survey, 97 percent of respondents indicated that they experience technical challenges when deploying their organization’s mobile apps. In the U.S., 29 percent of respondents listed back-end integration to healthcare systems as the biggest technical challenge, followed by securing access to data, mentioned by 27 percent of respondents.

As Holmes points out, the dominant back-end integration language for healthcare app is Java, with 52 percent of all respondents reporting using Java for mobile app development, followed by .Net (15 percent), other JavaScript (13 percent), Ruby on Rails (10 percent) and Node.js (9 percent).

According to Holmes, the reliance on “heavyweight” languages such as Java and .Net for integration may be limiting respondents’ agility in mobile integration, when compared with using “lightweight” back-end languages such as Node.js. “Java and .Net have been notoriously difficult to integrate with,” he contends.

“Using heavyweight languages and not widespread use of platforms such as Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) that can do the heavy lifting on integration may be where the technological challenge in integration is stemming from,” states Red Hat.

And, while healthcare organizations surveyed expect to develop more apps over the next year, they are only planning to increase their budget an average of 15.5 percent to support the efforts.

Red Hat warns that “this disparity between investment growth and desired app volumes may not be achieved by developing mobile apps as one-off projects” but rather “a modern platform-based approach that supports agile development and modern API-based architecture can help increase developer efficiency, reduce development costs, and support the increasing demand for mobile apps.”

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