We all know about the financial pressures and excessive workloads faced by healthcare organizations across the globe. From financial constraints to compliance and governance, minimizing risk and maximizing use of resources; it’s a constant juggling act.
Most importantly of all, there are the patients these organizations serve, many of whom are increasingly knowledgeable and mindful of their rights and healthcare organizations’ responsibilities. An informed patient is an empowered patient, which is good news for all.
However, those who look their symptoms up online before – or even instead of – visiting their doctor, are at risk of playing the dangerous game of self-diagnosis, which can have serious consequences if a critical condition needing urgent treatment is missed. Yet this proactive, independent patient community does offer a potential opportunity to lighten the load just a little.
Applying apps to healthcare
For many years now, and with some success, the healthcare community has encouraged patients to actively participate in their own care wherever possible – diabetes monitoring at home, for example. Across the globe, patients are using telehealth devices to manage chronic conditions and communicate results to doctors, and text messaging is becoming as commonplace in healthcare as it is in industries like retail and banking. An SMS reminder to attend a medical appointment subtly shifts responsibility so it becomes shared between healthcare provider and patient, while also helping to reduce the number of missed appointments that waste so much precious time and resources.
And as my colleague Cem Tanyel pointed out recently, most patients want to actively participate in their own care, especially if it involves the devices they already use in their everyday lives. From personalized healthcare, to public health campaigns and managing global epidemics – particularly apposite in light of current world events – the time seems right for mobile healthcare apps, particularly for those savvy, proactive patients I mentioned just now.
A growing market
In truth however, the time appears to have been right for some time; back in 2012 a Deloitte report indicated that consumers are driving demand for mHealth, especially healthcare-related apps for smart devices. It also reported that the global market, even back in 2011, was $1.2 billion.
Meanwhile, the first half of 2014 saw a 62% increase in health and fitness apps usage, and it’s predicted that by 2018, half of the 3.4 billion mobile users across the globe will download a health app. Use of apps by clinicians has also grown dramatically, and it is widely acknowledged that healthcare apps are increasing patient engagement in healthcare.
One note of caution
Apps stores are making it easier than ever to access and use mobile apps anywhere in the world, which is great news. But it does raise an important issue, recently highlighted by Joanna Laurson-Doube.
English may be the most common first and second language in the world, but only 6% of the world’s population actually speak English as a first language. Added to that, the highest smartphone sales for 2014 were expected to be in China, India, USA, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Japan, Mexico, Germany, France and the UK, meaning healthcare apps will need to be internationalized in order to maximize their usefulness.
Apps also need to be localized. Portuguese in Brazil, for example, is very different from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. And the difference between British, Australian and American English are considerable, to say the least. Using just one word incorrectly in a healthcare context could lead to inaccurate diagnosis, potentially endangering lives.
That said, mHealth and healthcare apps definitely have the potential to transform patients into empowered participants, which can only be good news for over-stretched healthcare providers.
The key lies in understanding the healthcare environment well enough to identify how mobile applications can deliver benefits to both patients and healthcare providers, and recognizing regional variances. This expertise might be available in-house, or could be delivered by a vendor possessing both the necessary technical know-how and global industry knowledge needed for success.
Finally, as another colleague, David Morris, says in a recent contribution to the CSC Applications Modernization Blog, implementing and adhering to a sound governance framework for any new technology will enhance traditional healthcare delivery models, benefiting both patients and providers.
Which is good news for everyone.
Lisa Pettigrew, Industry General Manager, Global Healthcare, CSC