Allina Health tests waters for apps based on patient journeys 

When it comes to pregnancy apps, it's a jungle out there. In November 2017, there were more than 318,000 digital health apps and counting, with 9 percent of those dedicated to women's health and pregnancy, according to the latest available data from IQVIA Institute. 

The mobile app space for pregnancy isn't just dense, it's also diverse. Women can track their baby's growth compared to grocery store items like limes and avocados. They can ask other users anonymous questions, log their vitamin intake, decide on baby names, read personal testimonials from other mothers — the list goes on.    

But not all apps are created equal. A 2018 study published by Health Promotion Practice of 48 pregnancy-tracking mobile apps found only half of apps cited a trusted source for health information, like a health professional agency or peer-reviewed research journal. Many apps offered contradictory risk recommendations, sometimes with and sometimes without a source, researchers found. 

Minneapolis-based Allina Health recognized this need and developed an app free and open to the public called "Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond." The Beginnings app aims to be a digital, clinically-based resource for expectant mothers. Becker's caught up with Chris DuFresne, Allina Health's director of digital experience, to discuss the Beginnings app and how it fits into Allina Health's master plan for digital engagement. 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity. 

Question: There are a lot of pregnancy apps out there. Can you tell me about how Allina Health's app is different? 

Chris DuFresne: When we looked at building out the Beginnings app or not, we did a competitive analysis to look at what else was out there. We saw there continues to be a gap in clinically based pregnancy apps. Our Allina Health providers have written materials for our pregnancy patients, so we wanted to adapt those into a digital solution. 

In addition, we wanted to explore how we might build apps that are specific to patient journeys and major milestones in a patient's life. This was a way for us to start building out that capability using much of the great patient education content we had already created internally. 

Q: Can you talk about your general Allina Health app and how it differs from this one? 

CD: It's the first [app] specific to a patient journey. Our general Allina Health account app allows patients to interact with their medical record, so that would be your traditional medical messaging, prescription refills, visit notes — those more traditional patient portal activities. We knew we wanted to create something more geared to a specific patient journey, such as pregnancy. We envision in the future that the apps will work together similar to how Facebook and Facebook Messenger work: they're related, but they may not all be in one specific app. That allows for a more tailored experience based on the journey that patient is in.   

Q: So is the app primarily education-based?

CD: Yes, it's more about education. It's organized by either topic or trimester, depending on how patients prefer to review content. Our culture has shifted from reading like a book — cover-to-cover — more to reading by topic, like blog posts, for example. We wanted to adapt the app to be organized in a way that makes the most sense for users. We also have a kick tracker function in there to monitor baby's movements. It keeps a running log of that on the device so the patient can bring that information into an appointment. 

There's a timer on it that you track how often you feel kicking, and there's specific clinical guidelines for it as well. If you are outside the norm, it recommends you call your provider. It's not actively monitored by a physician, though. It's really meant to be a patient tool. 

Q: What is in the future for this app?

CD: Integration into the EHR is a key item, as is continuing to add other tools and enabling the connection of devices to it. It could be a blood pressure monitor for patients with blood pressure challenges in their pregnancy. It could be information from a glucometer for those who might have diabetes.

We also continue to identify where we are getting feedback and where we are seeing opportunities through data analytics to see where we can improve the app and the user experience with it. We believe in agile software development and continuous improvement to the functionality we released.

Q: What has the reception been so far?

CD: We've heard very positive feedback. People are using it in combination with other pregnancy tools out there. Other tools have more social components. Consumers understand that this is about their clinical care. There may be other apps that are targeted toward, you know, your baby is the size of an avocado — more whimsical and fun. We want our app to have delightful components, but our target is really the more clinically based content, written in a way that's directed toward patients. 

Q: How does this app fit into your overall digital strategy as a health system?

CD: Our digital strategy has two main goals: One is to reduce friction for consumers; the second is to deepen relationships and engagement with them. Both of those support our Allina Health brand in the digital space. This fits into our overarching strategy in that there are many different ways people want to interact with healthcare system. One of those ways might be transactionally, meaning I want to send a medical message or request a prescription refill. But we also recognize there are people who are in more of a medical situation or journey, similar in concept to pregnancy, and their needs may differ. They may need to interact with the healthcare system more frequently and need more information about the situation they are in beyond just transacting. 


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