Doctor using a mobile device to view images

Healthcare and the App Economy: A New Era

Doctor using a mobile device to view images

Healthcare and the App Economy: A New Era

Not just diet and fitness apps, but a full digital transformation of the healthcare industry

Do you remember playing “Snake” on an old, brick Nokia phone?
Opening the internet browser (and frantically exiting out because nobody understood data plans) was a luxury on phones. Now, we get annoyed when a web page on our phone doesn’t load within three seconds, or if a coffee shop doesn’t have an app where we can preorder our breakfast to skip the line. We expect there to be an app for everything, from conferences we attend to deciding what to do when we’re on vacation. Nearly every service and industry has been saturated by the app economy. And even though we are all consumers within the healthcare industry, we don’t have the same technological expectations for it. It’s a fragmented industry, and for too long lagged behind when it comes to becoming more consumer-friendly.

Consumers are finally asking the question: why shouldn’t we expect more from our healthcare experience? 

Many healthcare experts are the loudest voices calling for improvement to technology and transparency in this industry. Dr. Genya V. Dana, Head of Precision Medicine, World Economic Forum, Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said it best during the Future of Healthcare & Life Sciences Keynote at Dreamforce ’18 when she spoke about her father living with Parkinson’s disease, “If I had a mobile app to actually help me with [taking care of my father], it would’ve saved me tears, frustration, trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night, paper records here, paper records there, sorry we can’t help you, you’re not the designated person…” She ends her personal story by saying, “It is literally not working for people who find themselves in these healthcare situations.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Genya V. Dana’s story is a common one. Whether it’s you or a loved one struggling with the gaps of communication and confusion in the healthcare industry, it can be an extremely frustrating and time-consuming aspect of your life. It’s easy to feel helpless when you can’t get in contact with the right person or can’t get the information you need- even when it’s your personal information. The good news is, healthcare experts are not blind to this issue. There are people in the healthcare industry working tirelessly to make your life and the lives of others in similar situations easier, less stressful. Healthcare is finally coming to the app economy.

You may already have a health-related app on your phone — Runkeeper, FitBit, MyFitnessPal, etc., but that is only a small indicator of the future of healthcare apps. The shift we’re talking about will allow patients to view their lab results, make appointments, communicate with their doctor, all from their home.

For a visual example, imagine a patient with a chronic illness isn’t feeling well, so they know they need to make an appointment with their physician as soon as possible. In today’s world, a patient will call a physician’s office and navigate an automated system or speak to an administrator to make an appointment. They will eventually be seen for a few minutes by a provider who may have no history of the patient, no actionable data, and nothing else to consider other than the patient’s current symptoms. With the right app, that same patient is able to be connected to the right provider for their symptoms, based on their medical history, schedule transportation through Uber or Lyft if they need it, and the provider will have all the context that they require to make smart decisions. The patient is also able to use the app to fill out the information and reason for the visit before they even leave their house. This allows them to answer these vital questions at their own pace, resulting in more thoughtful and accurate answers. This information is stored and the physician is able to review it properly before meeting with the patient. Point-of-care data about the patient will result in a diagnosis being made more accurately and efficiently than ever before.

A similar process will take place after a patient leaves the facility. Prescription information, imaging, and referral information will be delivered to patients from a single source, making it easier to track their medicine intake, monitor side effects, make follow-up appointments, handle their insurance paperwork, and so much more. Physicians will also have the ability to treat proactively, rather than reactively, with insight into the patient’s progress even after they are discharged. They can track the patient’s day-to-day health information, like activity, diet, and even more specific clinical information like blood pressure and glucose levels. Steve Nelson, CEO of United Health Care, a keynote speaker alongside Dr. Genya V. Dana at the Future of Healthcare & Life Sciences Keynote, had a personal example of this physician insight. Nelson mentioned the continuous glucose monitor that his father wears, which is connected to the primary caregiver and Nelson’s personal cell phone. This allows Nelson’s family to monitor when his father’s sugar levels and insulin are higher than usual, keeping family members updated and giving them more peace of mind.

While it might take some time for the world to completely get on board with the healthcare app economy, there is no doubt that, when used properly, this advancement in healthcare technology will help to simplify this deeply complex industry for consumers. The patient experience will improve from start to finish, which is what every healthcare provider (and consumer) wants. Patients will finally have transparency and control when it comes to their personal health information and be empowered to manage their health, resulting in better outcomes for everyone.