What’s the big deal about a native mobile experience?

A new survey of 272 healthcare executives found that nine out of ten believe a robust patient-facing mobile platform can help them achieve their digital strategy goals.

However, only 22% said they had a mobile solution that was customized to the needs of their organization and patients. Most were using the mobile version of their patient portal or their mobile responsive website (aka, a website that looks OK on a phone’s browser) as their mobile presence.

This brings up the natural question of, “Why would a healthcare system invest more in mobile technology if they already have a mobile responsive website or mobile patient portal?”

There are two answers to this—growth and loyalty. An easy-to-access, intuitive offering that provides a native mobile experience—in other words an app designed to be installed and run on a smartphone—can drive both of those things. While a patient portal and a website play important roles in a larger digital strategy, neither is able to provide the mobile experience patients say they want—one that mirrors their everyday experience with service and retail companies like Amazon and Delta.

Driving Growth Requires Open Access

The federal government has been incentivizing portal adoption for years. Get enough patients to sign up, and you don’t get dinged on your Medicare reimbursement. Get even more people to sign up, and you might get a little more reimbursement. The idea was to give patients better, easier access to their medical records, discharge summaries, lab results, etc. Portal adoption rose drastically during COVID as providers of all kinds used it to track vaccination status. It clearly has an important place in healthcare, but it focuses solely on existing patients. It was never intended to be a marketing tool to drive growth through new patient acquisition.

To support growth goals, organizations need a solution that is not only easy to find and download but easy to access (i.e., no usernames, passwords, or two-factor authentication). It should be available to every consumer in a health system’s catchment area. Once the barrier to access has been lowered it's critical to provide features that deliver true value to the user.  Features like provider search and appointment scheduling that appeal to both new and existing patients as well as easy access to all points of follow-up care which keep known patients in network. The more useful features and functions, the “stickier” it will be, drawing in new and existing patients and giving them reasons to return. A well-designed native mobile app can do just that. That’s how an organization like Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia was able to reach nearly 150,000 downloads of its app with 75% of users returning to use it again.

Building Loyalty through Native Features

Smartphones have capabilities that aren't found anywhere else. This creates a mobile app experience that is significantly better user, making it more engaging and more likely to build loyalty.

Consider companies in other industries like Uber, Delta, or Chick-Fil-A. Of course, they have a mobile responsive website, but they also have a robust native mobile app. Why? Because the native app makes it easier to fill out forms without scrolling, pinching and zooming, and it can access phone features like contacts, voice skills, and low-level sensors. In fact, many of these companies use their mobile responsive website to drive app downloads by suggesting consumers download the app when they hit that site through a search. The ease and simplicity of that cohesive native experience builds loyalty. A consumer becomes a Delta flier, chooses the experience they prefer between Lyft and Uber, or orders Chick-Fil-A on a late night because those companies make it so easy to do business with them at anytime from anywhere.

The majority of Americans now own a smartphone, and on average they spend four hours a day on a mobile device. Three out of four people use search engines to kickstart their patient journey, and mobile search is far outpacing desktop. Mobile is where healthcare consumers are. Debbie Laughery, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at WakeMed Health & Hospitals, knows more than most about mobile engagement in healthcare. An earlier adopter of mobile patient engagement, WakeMed launched its first app in 2006. In 2017, after retooling their overall digital strategy, they started looking for a new solution. She didn’t know exactly what their new mobile approach would look like, but she did know one thing, “We needed an app with an intuitive user interface that offered interactive capabilities for engagement.” In 2020, they launched WakeMed All Access, a native mobile app that brings all their patient-digital solutions under one umbrella. Over 6,000 users a month rely on the app today, helping WakeMed cement its leadership position in patient engagement. 

Being able to use the true native mobile experience to meet your health system’s growth goals and build loyalty among patients is why it’s a big deal.

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