Hospitals Struggle to Offer Meaningful Health Apps, Lose Money

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Just two percent of patients in the 100 largest hospitals nationally are using hospital-provided mobile health apps, costing each of these healthcare organizations considerable lost revenue, according to new research from consulting firm Accenture.

While two-thirds (66 percent) of the nation’s biggest hospitals have mobile apps for consumers and roughly two-fifths (38 percent) of that subset have developed proprietary apps for their patients, only 11 percent of these health systems offer patients proprietary apps that operate with at least one of the three functions that consumers demand most: access to electronic health records; the ability to book, change and cancel appointments; and the ability to request prescription refills electronically.

When it comes to functionality, Brian Kalis, managing director in Accenture’s health practice reveals that the vast majority of existing hospital-provided apps had “limited to no functionality” of those key capabilities. In addition, Kalis reports that the usability of these apps suffered as they were “often hard and cumbersome for people to use.”

As a result, Accenture found that 7 percent of patients have switched healthcare providers due to a poor experience with online customer service channels, such as mobile apps and web chat. According to the firm’s analysis, this switching could translate to a loss of more than $100 million in annual revenue per hospital.

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“While providers are making an effort to meet consumers’ expectations, their responses to date have been inadequate,” says Kalis. “More than half of health consumers would like to use their smartphones more to interact with providers. But, they’re displeased with the current lack of mobile services. Having a mobile app overall is not sufficient to meet those demands.”

He argues that hospitals need to focus on delivering exceptional user experiences and functionality to meet patient demands for digital engagement. One way to do that, Kalis contends, is to partner with “digital disruptors” in the commercial health apps market such as Good Rx, ZocDoc and WebMD that are popular with consumers.

A comparison of provider apps versus commercially available apps through the Google Play and iTunes app stores drives home the point, according to Kalis. Hospital apps had an average 3.6 rating (out of 5) and more than 7,000 downloads. However, ZocDoc (for patient scheduling) has an average rating of 4.5 and more than 300,000 downloads, and iTriage (for symptom and health questions support) has an average rating of 4.5 and more than 1 million downloads.

“Mobile presence and capabilities can help providers succeed in an era of individualized healthcare, where patients are empowered to help manage their own care,” states the Accenture report. “Moreover, by not having solid mobile engagement strategies, providers are ceding a portion of the patient experience—and potential revenue streams—to digital health disruptors that increasingly offer competing products and services.”

For its part, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s approach is a combination of apps and adaptive style sheets—web pages that automatically resize/reformat to whatever mobile device patients are using. According to CIO John Halamka, MD, currently 80 percent of all access to BIDMC's publicly available websites is conducted via mobile platforms and 25 percent of its patients use PatientSite/OpenNotes, which is what he calls a “mobile friendly” website.

PatientSite is a secure website where BIDMC patients can manage their healthcare online, anytime from a smartphone, tablet or PC, including requesting a prescription/referrals as well as scheduling/cancelling appointments. And, through the OpenNotes initiative, the medical center became among the first in the country to enable its patients using PatientSite to read the healthcare notes their clinicians write after an appointment.

“I wonder if Accenture considered that hospitals may be offering mobile friendly websites which create a user experience almost identical to apps,” asks Halamka.

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