More healthcare organizations are turning to the use of apps to improve workflows and fill in gaps that other information systems are not equipped to handle.

The perception that apps are only used by individual consumers for personal needs is changing, as a wide variety of app developers and providers are looking for ways to incorporate apps to solve specific problems within healthcare practice.

Epic is developing its own approach for enabling wider use of apps, creating the App Orchard as a forum for both app developers and providers that want to fill workflow or information gaps for specific purposes.

The App Orchard enables developers to mesh their products with Epic’s APIs for reporting, visualizations, content and more. It also is being built out as a marketplace for users of Epic’s information systems to find applications that are proven to work within an Epic environment.

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Epic’s app forum was unveiled in September, and recently, the vendor hosted a conference for developers and providers at its Verona, Wis., campus. About 270 attendees were at the two-day event, representing 79 vendor organizations and 57 different Epic customers.

For providers, it was a chance to ask specific questions of app vendors to see how the solutions might work within their environments to solve existing problems that are not addressed by Epic’s large-scale systems.

The conference and App Orchard venue are logical extensions of Epic’s efforts to meet customers’ needs for solutions that will work seamlessly within the company’s systems, says Sumit Rana, Epic’s senior vice president of research and development. “We first started working on the App Orchard when we were getting requests for customers and programmers to share ideas on a single platform. We wanted to create something to have a consistent platform for third parties to answer questions like how to use our APIs, and how to build something that’s safe and sustainable.”

Rana sees growing interest in apps by enterprises that see apps as being able to solve specific problems at a scale that meets needs across the entire healthcare organization. Epic benefits from the App Orchard marketplace by giving customers a sense of choice from the products while being able to encourage “a sense of discipline” on third parties by making available documentation of Epic APIs, which enable to apps to work seamlessly and exchange information within the Epic environment.

According to Rana, there are four categories of apps that provider organizations are likely to deploy across an enterprise:

  • Content and knowledge-based apps that offer information that’s been curated or approved by the organization.
  • Algorithms and computing assistance through apps that can assist users within their workflows, that are patient-centered and advance decision support actions.
  • Visualization apps that take specific types of clinical information and display it to clinicians in different and customized ways.
  • Apps that enable integration with non-healthcare information sources, such as information from external public health agencies.

One example of an app that meets a specific need within a healthcare organization is Parachute Health, which provides an electronic approach to ordering durable medical equipment for patients. Typically a paper-intensive process, Parachute Health enables providers to use the app to access information on a variety of DME supplies in one place, ordering equipment at a logical place in clinicians’ workflows, says Matt Pestritto, its chief technology officer.

The service has been rolled out at about 800 nursing homes, and it’s now being tested at a hospital in New York before it’s made available more widely, Pestritto says. Enabling timely ordering and delivery of DME to patients, as tracked through the app, enables better patient care and reduces problems that may cause readmissions, he says.

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