Reshaping traditional healthcare: Five ways mobile can deliver a more engaged patient experience

Think for a moment how technology is transforming our lives. Lyft for when you need a ride, and Waze when you need directions.

LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram when you want to connect with friends and business associates. Add the mobile apps for your favorite airlines and hotels, and you quickly realize how much we rely on our apps.

Now think about the healthcare apps you use. Other than your fitness app and maybe your insurer’s find-a-doc app, are there any others? Probably not.

The fact is that while technological advances are helping clinicians better diagnose and treat patients, that revolution hasn’t filtered down to the provider-patient relationship. Healthcare systems, hospitals, surgery centers, physician practices—any entity that interacts with patients—must do better.

The following five examples paint a clear picture of how apps can deliver a more engaged patient experience, greater patient loyalty, better adherence to appointments and treatments—and a greater financial return for providers.

Technology is an enabler

Millennials, loosely defined as those born between 1981-1996, make up one-fourth of the U.S. population. And Generation Z, those born after 1996, comprise another quarter of the population. According to Pew Research, seven out of 10 Americans use at least one social media site. For young adults (18-29) the rate is 88%, and it’s 78% of those between 30-49.

Although healthcare providers might be leery of storing and transmitting protected health information (PHI), consumers already assume this information is being shared among providers. Younger Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with technology and are extremely comfortable storing credit card information in digital wallets and banking via mobile apps.

The banking and insurance industries, like healthcare, face strict regulations on how consumer information is transmitted and stored. And healthcare apps don’t necessarily have to store and transmit PHI to be effective. A maternity app, for example, can push information based on a due date without triggering HIPAA rules. A mom-to-be can track the progress of her fetus, schedule visits, find hospital classes and receive post-partum instructions.

Over the past two decades, nearly every industry sector has seen labor productivity gains—except healthcare. Despite the proliferation of personal healthcare mobile apps, providers have not made that leap. But it’s time that they do.

Give patients the information they want

Patients already are using the internet and mobile apps to look up medical conditions, check symptoms and find health professionals and facilities for care. Savvy providers recognize that branded apps can help establish long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with patients. The estimated lifetime value of a new patient has been pegged at $600,000, so the stakes are high.

According to a 2017 consumer health survey, nearly three-quarters of adults in the United States use the internet for health and wellness information. Of those, more than one-third are exploring information about specific symptoms or health conditions.

Additionally, a survey found that 71% of Millennials want their healthcare providers to use mobile apps to schedule appointments, share health data and manage preventive care.

Although app use is concentrated among younger patients, older patients also are using them in ever-increasing numbers. Since patients already are using apps on their health and wellness journeys, it makes sense for providers to offer apps that are specific to their practices, their facilities and their areas of expertise.

Give patients the information they need

Mobile apps also help patients by extending the continuum of care beyond the hospital or physician practice. Nearly 60% of American adults are living with one chronic condition, and 12% deal with five or more.

But only 40% say they were somewhat knowledgeable, at best, about how to take care of themselves in relation to their condition. The desire to learn is strong, however, with 70% of those with a chronic condition indicating they’d like more resources about their condition and 91% saying they needed help to manage their chronic condition(s).

A general branded app, which does not require HIPAA compliance as it does not handle PHI, can present authoritative, verified information about the patient’s condition, management techniques, possible warning signs and information about other resources and support groups. A HIPAA-compliant app can include the preceding information as well as two-way communication between patient and medical practice.

Forty-two percent of patients say they’d be more likely to follow recommended treatment plans if they were encouraged and coached to do so between physician visits.

Apps are the way to go

Regardless of a patient’s age, the preferred go-to source of information is quickly becoming mobile apps, as opposed to the mobile web or accessing the internet on one’s desktop, laptop or tablet computer. Apps deliver a direct link to the requested information, cutting through the clutter that more general websites can have.

The use of smartphone apps has far outpaced other forms of digital use. Since 2013, time spent on digital media through desktops has decreased by 8%. On the other hand, tablet use has risen 26% during the same time period, while smartphone use has grown nearly 100%.

More telling is the time people spend on their smartphones. They use apps 87% of the time versus 13% of the time on the mobile web.

The popularity of apps shows no signs of slowing down. For health systems and other providers, the question is not whether to develop apps but how to effectively deploy them to increase productivity, efficiency and patient loyalty.

Reducing no-shows increases revenue

One way branded mobile apps have shown their utility and quick return on investment is through a reduction of no-shows. Scrubbed surgeries are costly to a hospital’s bottom line, and 10% of hospital readmissions can be attributed to patients failing to follow post-op instructions. Hospitals looking for a quick return on investment can focus on this critical source of revenue loss.

A perioperative app, for example, can be used to remind patients of when their surgery or procedure is scheduled. What’s more, it could also be a teaching and reminder tool.

An app could contain details of the planned surgery or procedure, and provide timely reminders to stop certain medications or conduct pre-surgery tasks such as bowel cleansing or special bathing. On the day of the procedure, an app can help patients find the right location through the labyrinth of a hospital or surgical center. Afterward, discharge instructions are delivered via timely, relevant push notifications which reduce complexity and increase awareness across the board, making it easy for patients and their families to determine next steps on the way to recovery.

Conclusion

Smartphone use is nearly ubiquitous in the United States. People are embracing mobile apps in unprecedented numbers, relying on them to complete tasks large and small. The healthcare segment, however, still lags behind other industries in adopting a mobile-first strategy for patient experience. Cutting-edge health systems and healthcare providers are using branded mobile apps to increase patient engagement, education and loyalty while reducing no-shows and improving their bottom lines.

Randy Tomlin is CEO and Chairman of the Board for MobileSmith. In his position, Randy directs the company’s strategic growth and operational excellence, and is responsible for the successful proliferation of the company’s mobile app technologies throughout the healthcare spectrum.

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