Cultivating a homegrown hospital app: Q&A with NewYork-Presbyterian's IT leaders on digital patient engagement strategy

One way hospitals and health systems are meeting patient demands for mobile options and digital engagement is by rallying in-house to develop their own system-specific apps, rather than linking to third party platforms. NewYork-Presbyterian is the most recent to go this route with the early-January release of their own hospital-specific mobile app for patients, dreamed and developed in the system's own Innovation Center.

Peter Fleischut, MD, associate chief innovation officer of NYP, and Daniel Barchi, CIO of NewYork-Presbyterian spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the process of designing an app specifically for their patients and what health systems can offer by way of digital engagement.

Question: What drove NewYork-Presbyterian to develop this app?

Mr. Barchi: We're really interested in reaching our patients and making the experience for our patients easier and better overall and more focused on them. Our patients are using mobile technology whether they're at home, in our hospitals or being seen in one of our physician practices, so we wanted to bring the experience to them wherever they were. Instead of making lots of apps that do lots of different things, it was Peter's vision to create a NewYork-Presbyterian app into which we can layer a lot of different functionality, so this was the first step into that, with a lot of functionality to begin with and plans to add more as we move forward.

Dr. Fleischut: It's a way to give patients a free, easy-to-use tool to guide them through patient care. As we grow as an integrated healthcare system and provide additional services through our regional hospital network and our other hospitals, we want to make it very easy for patients to navigate that system and extend features and functionalities to them in their homes and any other places where they may need to be taken care of.

Q: What can patients see using the app? How is it updated?

Dr. Fleischut: Right now it's just the basics: Easy functionality, such as enabling a patient to not have to go to multiple venues to search for a doctor. They can now search for a doctor from any of our nine hospitals using the app, they're able to find directions to each hospital and understand the clinical services each offers. They're also able to pay bills via their phone rather than having to bring a physical payment to a hospital. And as Daniel mentioned, we want to construct a platform that allows us to work with other outside entrepreneurs, innovators and companies to provide new features and functionalities to those patients. Some of that exists within the app now, but we plan to expand that on a rapid cycle in the future.

Mr. Barchi: To that point, less than a week after releasing the app, we released the first update, so we really are focused on rapidly building out functionality as the app develops.

Dr. Fleischut: One component we plan to add on will be the ability for patients to access their medical records. The application is meant to engage and to satisfy patients and help with their needs, and one component of that is providing that access to their data.

Q: What other features do you plan to build out?

Dr. Fleischut:  We're definitely looking at interactive visitor guides to help patients before they get to the hospital, during their stay and after. There's also additional health features — they're labeled as telehealth — but they are really an extension of how we provide healthcare outside of a hospital using technology and communication technology, like we've done for years. That includes follow-up appointments, providing second opinions and eventually remote patient monitoring.

Mr. Barchi: When we think about patient way-finding, which is one of the functions we hope to add on to the app as well, just in Manhattan alone NewYork-Presbyterian has more than 10 million square feet of space in our hospitals. Expecting our patients to navigate their way around to their appointments, to their physicians — it would be overwhelming if we didn't give them better tools. So we're interested in providing that to them through the portal as well.

Q: What do you expect the patient experience impact to be?

Mr. Barchi: The whole idea of what we're doing both with this app, and where our push at NewYork-Presbyterian as a whole is, is toward delivering better patient care. For [patients] and for their families, their experience with us is important because we want them to continue to return to seek care and also to follow up on their care. We want them to not only have a good experience but to keep following up with us so they remain healthy. It all ties together and if we can use this app as a way to interact with them whenever and wherever they are online, we'll keep doing that.

Dr. Fleischut: I think the overriding theme is to also make it as simple as possible. So this is not just geared toward technologists, it's a simple application that can help our patients be more engaged and we feel that patients who are more engaged not only recover quicker but they are going to be happier as well.

Q: Do you think developing system-specific apps is going to be a growing trend for hospitals?

Mr. Barchi: I do, a lot of health systems today are using off the shelf portals for medical records that are mostly from EHR providers and I think that we're starting at the edges — at one end there are health systems that are focused on the EHR and what is available from their vendor and we're starting in the other direction. With a focus on patient experience, we're all going to start moving towards the middle, which is, as Peter has envisioned, one tool that encompasses all of these different components where patients can say either, "I'm sick today," or "I'm having a visit today," or "I need to make an appointment," or "I want to follow up." They know there is one app they go to and that's the NewYork-Presbyterian app.

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