To Consider: Mobile Apps That Engage Patients

March 16, 2012

It’s clear that getting patients involved in their own care is the way of the future. As it turns out, so is mobile healthcare.

There’s a phrase we’re seeing a lot of lately at Physicians Practice, and it’s “patient engagement.” Federal officials and healthcare experts continually note that many of the proposed Stage 2 objectives of CMS’ “meaningful use” EHR incentive program are designed to increase “patient engagement.” Additionally, we’re seeing the phrase come up in lots of vendor press releases too (meaning, it must be on the minds of doctors and other healthcare workers).

So clearly, patient engagement is important. Whether your practice has invested in Web-based portals that allow patients to book appointments and communicate with doctors online, or encouraged the use of personal health records, it’s clear that getting patients involved in their own care is the way of the future.

As it turns out, so is mobile healthcare.

Today more physicians and practices are using mobile devices to access their EHRs, look up diagnostic codes and medication information (via special apps), and communicate electronically with other physicians to coordinate care.

So it really isn’t a huge surprise that achieving the goal of “engaging patients” is now being assisted by the use of mobile healthcare applications, and that a growing number of apps that engage patients in their own care are finding a new audience with physician practices. 

One mobile app that caught our attention is a popular consumer application by iTriage (downloaded 5 million times so far), which allows patients of participating physicians practices to make appointments via their Android- or Apple-based wireless device.

“The bottom line is there are more searches done via the mobile app,” physician and iTriage CEO Peter Hudson told Physicians Practice. “It always knows where you are, it can store your medical health information, and it has all the stuff you need to make a decision.”

The app also allows patients to record personal health information and access their health records that have been downloaded to a secure portal.

It should be noted the app also helps consumers in other ways - such as by helping a prospective patient locate the nearest emergency room within seconds, or specialty practice that is open to new patients.

The rub is, though, that the physician practices that come up at the top of a search list are the ones that pay iTriage to post “enhanced” information, Hudson says.

Of course, improving patient engagement at your practice definitely goes beyond suggesting mobile apps. Giving patients access to health information, such as through a patient portal, is perhaps the most touted means of engaging patients, a recent editorial in InformationWeeksuggests.

Here’s some more food for thought: A study released earlier this month by the National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC) found that nearly all healthcare organizations think engaging patients is critical to transforming healthcare. Of the185 industry stakeholders who participated in the NeHC online survey conducted in mid-February, 77 percent said patient and consumer engagement is "very important" to transforming healthcare and 18 percent said it is "important,” InformationWeek noted.

That being said, the more patients use smartphones to do everything from checking bank statements to checking health records, the more practices ought to take a look at how they can take advantage of mobility. 

“By making it easy and convenient [to make appointments], you improve loyalty,” said Hudson, adding that patients don’t enjoy the process of calling an automated service, hitting the number three, and waiting for a live person to come onto a phone call. “But that’s the reality of a lot of practices out there.”


We want to hear from you. What apps is your practice using to improve patient engagement?