The concept of mobile “super apps” has gained considerable traction in recent years. For modern day consumers, the idea that the functionality of multiple mobile apps can be merged into one integrated, streamlined, and contextualized super app would not only simplify one’s daily agenda, but also has the potential to revolutionize the way one operates and thinks.
Patients increasingly expect a level of convenience in healthcare similar to that available in retail and banking. While merging mobile technology with healthcare initiatives is hardly a new frontier, integrating all of the composite aspects of individual healthcare into one coordinated mobile app has not yet come to fruition. Individual healthcare comprises a complex network of assessments, diagnoses, communications, treatment regimens, access, insurance coverage, and payment structures, and thus, coordinated, convenient care is essential. The ability to coordinate care through a centralized app can easily address convenience, but it can also address the current ills of healthcare in the short and long term, both on an individual basis and for the healthcare system as a whole.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the current healthcare system is the exorbitant and skyrocketing costs of care paired with disparately lower health outcomes compared to other high-income countries. According to an analysis conducted by The Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. spends 50% more than any other nation on healthcare, and yet U.S. health outcomes do not reflect a return on investment. Despite this high level of spending, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth among other high-income countries, at 78.8 years in 2013, compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) median of 81.2 years. In addition, the U.S. has a higher prevalence of chronic diseases, with 68% of adults 65 years of age or older having at least two chronic conditions.
One of the root causes underlying high healthcare costs is the failure, on the patients part, to make or attend appointments. A survey conducted by Bankrate Money Pulse found that one quarter of Americans surveyed have skipped, or know someone who has skipped, necessary doctor visits due to cost, and 13% of those surveyed had no insurance at all. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, only three in five households have enough savings to afford an individual $1200 deductible or a $2400 family deductible. The problem with forgoing or delaying needed healthcare is that in the long term, patients can end up getting sicker and at that point require more costly treatment, especially in the event of an emergency room visit.
There are many individual mobile apps already empowering patients and providing better access to healthcare professionals. With telemedicine, patients can take a proactive approach to their health by communicating with doctors via webcam, phone, and email. By scheduling non-emergency phone, video, or email doctor visits for around $45, patients not only save money on the office visit (compared with an estimated cost of $100 per in-office doctor visits, $160 for urgent care clinic visits, and $750 or more for emergency room visits), they also reduce transportation barriers and other commuting costs The added convenience conferred by these apps can mean higher patient compliance and engagement in attending doctor visits, more motivation to engage in regular checkups, and greater interest and ability to keep up with their treatment regimens.In addition to telemedicine, there are apps created to store and track recent diagnostic tests and treatments. These apps not only increase the level of collaborative care and reduce duplicative efforts across specialty care providers, but they also help to reduce unnecessary health utilization costs.
Collaborative care is especially crucial in the case of chronic diseases and conditions. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among the most costly, common, and preventable among all health conditions. The CDC has found that chronic diseases and conditions, including the health risk behaviors that cause them, account for most of U.S. health expenditures, and among the 130 million Americans with chronic conditions, it costs the U.S. over $2.5 trillion annually.
One of the first steps in improving health outcomes among patients with chronic conditions is to encourage daily self-management, which mobile apps have the potential to address. Treatment reminders can help patients stay on track with medicine doses or blood sugar tests to remain vigilant in their care. Providers who have limited time to routinely follow-up with their patients can monitor self-reported patient activity using wireless sensors and devices through a mobile apps. The connectivity afforded by apps between patient and provider can enable providers to deliver interventions continuously, connect on a more personal level, and inspire patients to be healthier in ways that office-based practice has not been able. In addition, patients with chronic conditions typically see multiple healthcare specialists, and mobile apps allows a deeper level of ease and contextualization by helping patients and providers gain better insight on a patient’s medical history across multiple providers, more easily track transitions between treatment centers, clinics, and patient homes, and coordinate treatment regimens more effectively to avoid dangerous drug-drug interactions.
Don’t all of these apps to improve our health and wellness sound great?!
The problem is, none of these apps connect or integrate with each other. How can so many helpful, patient-centered and health-focused apps be so divergent that they are not addressing a holistic approach to health and wellness? With over 300,000 mobile health apps available, we can’t blame the patient. We, in the healthcare sector, need to make it easier for patients to manage their health by incentivizing healthy behaviors and streamlining communications with practitioners to better sync daily habits with annual check-ups.Empowering patients by connecting these apps in a succinct “super app” is truly on the verge of realization. Imagine the average patient proactively seeking preventative healthcare and is fully engaged in his/her treatment plans. Imagine providers who act in the interest of their patients and the healthcare system and prioritize better patient outcomes. We’re not too far away from that world.