Mayo Clinic's App and the Future of Patient Engagement

For the want of a map, Mayo Clinic ended up with a popular app that's poised to increase Mayo Clinic's ability to keep patients engaged and healthy.  

The app was incubated in the Rochester, Minn.-based Clinic's Center for Innovation, a space where Mayo researchers can request funding to explore an innovative idea, explains Mark D. Henderson, information technology division chair and IT director at the Center for Connected Care at Mayo. A request had been submitted for the development of an app to help patients navigate the campus. "We've got 50 buildings on 16 million square feet of space — it can be a little confusing," he says.

Center for Innovation developers began to interview the volunteers and staff who work directly with patients, and "as we started to work through the development of the app, the scope expanded to include integrated appointment calendars, access to radiology and lab reports as well as recommendations on where to eat in town," and other features that would be useful to patients, he says. After the incorporation of these features and a successful test run using 30,000 Mayo employees, the app went live on May 15, 2012.

"We had 1,000 downloads on the first day," says Mr. Henderson. The number of downloads increased to tens of thousands in the first month, and the app has currently been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

Currently, app users can see a significant portion of their electronic medical record, including medication lists and full patient summaries. Parents, children or caregivers can also request access to patients' records to help manage appointments or connect directly to the patients' clinicians.

Despite all this mobile access, Mayo Clinic has not had any security issues involving the app, says Mr. Henderson. "We have a lot of built-in safeguards," he says, like encrypted data transmission, password-protected entry and timed logouts. Additionally, no data is stored on the user's device; the user can only see the information when connected securely to the Mayo Clinic's servers. "As soon as they're not connected or they log out, the data is no longer available to them," says Mr. Henderson.

The developers are currently working to allow patients to see more of their medical information. "We're looking at what people have requested to see in paper copies [of their EMRs] and have plans to add additional functionality based on these requests," says Mr. Henderson.

The current plans for the app extend beyond access to EMRs. In the coming years, developers plan to add more interactive features, says Mr. Henderson. He wants to add the ability to talk live with a healthcare provider through the app. "Let's say you were using the symptom checker and found something you have a question about. You'd just push a button on your device and be connected to a care provider," he says.

The developers are also working on adding data-collecting functionalities on the patient's end. "We want to plug in remote monitoring capabilities, so that if the patient is using a fitness device or a glucometer they can share results through the app and receive wellness ideas and tips and tricks for staying healthy," says Mr. Henderson. "We've learned when patients are engaged with their health data, it creates an atmosphere of wellness that keeps people healthier."

A recent report by the National eHealth Collaborative supports Mr. Henderson's observation. Using expert commentary on the benefits of patient-generated health data and case study analysis of hospitals and health systems that effectively use the data, the report concludes patient-generated data fosters self-monitoring and self-management, keeping patients healthier (and keeping costs down).  

According to Mr. Henderson, the current roadblock to a future of data sharing between patient and provider is government regulations, mostly involving HIPAA and data security laws. "I think it's sort of ironic my car can send me a text message when my tire pressure is low, but my healthcare provider can't send me a text message when my glucose level is low," says Mr. Henderson.

Utilizing mobile and remote monitoring technology to reach a new level of patient engagement is "something the healthcare industry as a whole needs to figure out in the next several years," says Mr. Henderson.

"Now that so many people have mobile devices in their pockets that can record and retrieve wellness data, we should be able to reach out proactively to create a healthier population," he adds. "That's the future of healthcare — a network of connected people helping others live healthier lives."

More Articles on mHealth:

Figure 1 and Continuing Medical Education Through Mobile Apps
Scripps Launches Study to Examine Cost Savings of mHealth
14 Statistics on Clinicians and Mobile Device Usage

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