Penn Medicine instills ‘value chain’ for designing medicine to go mobile

The hospital system has put in place internal teams and partnered with the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to create processes for managing creative chaos amid a dizzying array of emerging and existing mHealth apps.
By Brian Wells
11:28 AM

One of the major benefits of working in healthcare technology at an academic medical center is the plethora of smart, engaged faculty and staff that believe in the value of incorporating mobile health (mHealth) strategies and tools for our patients, employees and partners. In fact, they seem to want to develop and deploy new mobile apps at a dizzying pace. 

The challenge for leadership is to harness this energy, ensure efforts are not wasted and drive opportunities for positive change so that they are not missed.  To address this challenge, my organization has formed a multi-pronged mHealth oversight structure. 

It starts with the mHealth Center, which is co-chaired by the CMIO, Chief Innovation Officer, Senior VP for Business Development and AVP for Health Technology and Academic Computing.  This group and the subordinate fifteen-member mForce Team, co-led by four senior leaders representing physicians, innovation, marketing and IS, provide the infrastructure and guidance to enable the identification of mobile health needs, access to more than 40 apps, with appropriate branding standards.  The group also measures application adoption benefits and costs to ultimately evangelize mHealth within the organization.

Shepherding new applications through concept, development, pilot deployment, and enterprise-wide adoption requires managing the “creative chaos” that often comes with innovation.

To accomplish that and guide future efforts we created this value chain:

Nurturing: This step in the chain encourages idea generation, matches those with needs to those who can create, identifies success criteria or return on investment, targets user populations and helps set priorities among the competition for resources.

Design: This critical link focuses on solution architecture, user interface, prototyping, fake back-ends, limited electronic medical record (EMR) access, server hosting, mobile platform selection, native app or web app decisions, privacy and security approach and many more considerations.

Incubation: The apps that make it to this step enter into limited pilots that focus on rapid validation, adoption, usage analytics and measurement against predefined “graduation criteria”.

Maturation: Apps that graduate from incubation enter the process of creating an industrial strength solution that can scale, is integrated with existing enterprise applications and can transition into the information systems team for ongoing support. This usually requires a rewrite of the solution to adhere to adopted standards. Apps that do not graduate may be terminated or sent back to a previous step for rework.

Deployment: This final step is the most difficult and where the value is realized.  Enterprise deployment requires broad participation from the user community leadership, funding sources, infrastructure support, EMR team involvement, service desk preparation, a marketing plan and project management.  Without these and other ingredients the potential return on the significant investment made to date will not be achieved.

To expand our ability to support demand we have also established a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences known as mHealth Labs.  The arrangement pairs teams of engineering students with clinical or business teams in Penn Medicine to design, develop and pilot mobile applications in the Penn Medicine environment.

The mHealth Governance committee representing all of the above groups plus operations, nursing, human resources, finance, quality and others, oversees this work.  Also, the committee sets standards in organizational, technological, and financial areas for effective strategy implementation, financial viability for broad adoption, and an infrastructure enabled environment. 

The great majority of the 40 apps in our inventory are aimed to support clinicians and focus on reference tools and EMR access.  We are now adjusting our effort to concentrate on patients and partners. 

In the coming year we will deploy an app that helps referring physicians find the best Penn Medicine specialists for their patients and assist with making an appointment. We will also begin to pilot a patient visit planning app that outlines appointment details, assists our patients with external and internal navigation, spells out visit prerequisites as well as what to expect after the visit is complete.  The mForce Team is actively working on this app and seeking patients that who are willing to be our initial pilot participants. 

The power of ubiquitous mobile devices (navigation, messaging, security, personalization, etc.) offers a unique platform for patient engagement and promises to reduce the stress of a visit to the doctor or hospital.

How do you envision designing medicine to go mobile?

Brian Wells is associate vice president of health technology and academic computing at Penn Medicine