While 66 of the 100 largest hospitals in the United States offer consumers mobile health apps, only 2 percent of patients are using them, according to a new report published on Wednesday by Accenture that also found that failure to focus apps on services consumers want most could cost each hospital more than $100 million a year in lost revenue.
In its “Losing Patience: Why Healthcare Providers Need to Up Their Mobile Game” report, the consultancy found that 38 of those top U.S. hospitals have developed health apps in-house rather than by hiring a mobile app vendor.
By not aligning their functions and user experience with what patients expect, many of these mobile health apps are failing to win over more patients. For example, only 11 percent of the hospital apps offer at least one of the three most desired functions: access to medical records; the ability to book, change and cancel appointments; and the ability to request prescription refills, Accenture found. Significantly, about 7 percent of patients have switched healthcare providers because of a poor experience with online customer service, including mobile apps, Accenture said.
Accenture suggested that as consumers bring their service expectations from other industries into healthcare, providers will likely see higher switching rates on par with the mobile phone industry (9 percent), cable TV providers (11 percent) or even retail (30 percent).
“In many cases, we’re seeing hospitals only offering a subset of things in their mobile apps — view labs, look up some basic forms,” Brian Kalis, managing director of the health practice at Accenture, told Healthcare IT News. “A lot of what is offered is around core medical record pieces versus easy appointment scheduling and such. It’s just static information, not personalized or tailored to an individual.”
When developing new mobile health apps, or when revamping existing mobile apps, hospitals must adopt a patient-centric approach, Kalis said.
“Moving to a person-centered approach will help hospitals understand what the mobile experience should be in terms of how patients interact in mobile and what they want,” Kalis said. “From there, hospitals might work more closely with electronic medical records vendors, advocating for a better experience and more flexibility in tailoring that experience. And hospitals might choose a custom solution, more for the patient-facing piece, and work on building out a digital engagement platform on their own to provide more control over and flexibility of the experience.”
Further, hospitals should engage with prominent digital and mobile health companies that offer unique solutions — such as ZocDoc and InstaMed Go — to understand areas of great interest to consumers and how they fit into the healthcare ecosystem, Kalis said.
When it comes to the question of buy versus build, Kalis suggested with mobile health it’s not a matter of either/or. Instead, it should be both.
“Hospitals can work with emerging digital health disruptors in the mobile space and Internet of Things space; this can be done parallel with building solutions in-house,” he said. “It’s about the pace and scale of change: As you work on putting together a better experience for people on your own, or in collaboration with an electronic medical records vendor, there will always be a new set of solutions out there that is evolving. Collaborating with companies behind such solutions will further inform solutions built up within the enterprise.”
As the pace and scale of mobile health technology continues to grow faster and larger, hospitals must keep up.
“Mobile engagement is becoming increasingly critical to the success of every hospital in the digital age,” Kalis said. “Consumers want ubiquitous access to products and services as part of their customer experience, and those who become disillusioned with a provider’s mobile services, or a lack thereof, could look elsewhere for services.”