How mHealth app development is failing and what needs to be done to improve it?

 

In 2015, Accenture and IMS reported that the hospital mobile apps were not meeting basic patient needs. They found that patients expected apps to contain these three core functionalities:

  • Electronic medical records access
  • Appointment scheduling and changes
  • Prescription refills

Yet, in 2015, only 11% of apps contained one of these three features, as demonstrated in this pie chart:

2015 mhealth app features

Image 1: Percentage of top health system mobile apps implementing at least one of the 3 most requested patient features in 2015, according to Accenture’s report.

Medical Web Experts carried out an in-depth analysis of the following hospital mobile apps to assess how mHealth apps evolved from 2015 to 2017:

Healthcare System
App Name
iOSAndroid
Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland ClinicToday
CarolinasCarolinas HealthCare System
Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic
Baptist Health South Florida
PineApp
Ascension
St. Vincents
Ascension
St. John
Tenet Health
Delray Medical Center
Tenet Health
Houston Northwest Medical Center
Trinity Health
Trinity Health
Kaiser Permanente Health Foundation
Kaiser Permanente
Dignity Health
My Care Dignity Health
NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System
NYP
Adventist Health System
Adventist Midwest Health Connect
Spectrum Health
My Health
Sutter Health
Sutter Health San Carlos
Sutter Health
My Health
Covenant Health
Virtual Care
Intermountain Healthcare
Health Hub
Sentara
Sentara
CHI Franciscan
CHI Franciscan
Legacy Health
Legacy Health
Novant Health
Novant Health
Table 1: List of mobile apps from top health systems used for analysis and the operating system(s) on which they are available.

 

After reviewing these apps and their current features, Medical Web Experts found that only 22.7% of the mHealth apps evaluated contained all three of the core features requested by patients. This is an improvement on the numbers from 2015, but the mhealth app development market still has room for growth.

percentage 2017 apps functionality

Image 2: Percentage of top health system mobile apps in 2017 that provide at least one of the 3 most requested patient features as defined in Accenture’s 2015 report.

Despite the fact that healthcare apps contain more of the requested features, Medical Web Experts found that the functionalities of these apps still are not meeting patient demands. The current application landscape has the following shortcomings:

  • Limited functionality of the features
  • Inaccurate app store descriptions
  • Lack of core features requested by patients
  • Multiple apps within one health system
  • Poor user experience and low use rates

The above aspects of limited functionality, lack of core features and poor user experience led Medical Web Experts to include an additional layer of analysis by assessing the dimensions of user experience and difficulty of implementation within the features of each app. The following graph shows the results of how apps ranked:

Image 3: Ranking of mobile app functionalities among top health systems based on user-experience and level of difficulty in implementation.

Almost 50% of the apps assessed are clustered in the area of the graph representing a low user experience rating and low level of difficulty to implement. Based on this information, it comes as no surprise that many functionalities are substandard and that core features and user experience are low. The mhealth app market has wrongly prioritized ease of implementation over functionality. The result is that many health systems offer apps that lack vital functionalities expected by patients, such as appointment scheduling online or messaging with their provider. In place of these functionalities, many apps use shortcuts, thus hindering patient engagement and affecting outcomes.

Additionally, when reviewing the app descriptions for each of the hospital apps evaluated, many times vital functionalities were listed in the app store description, but actually only launched the app store for the patient to download an additional app. Simply put, the expectations established by the app description and the reality of the experience of using the app are far off. User expectations are not met, leading to bad reviews, poor ratings, app deletion and disillusioned patients.

At the rate that technology advances, two years is a long time. So, why is it that from 2015 to 2017, so little improvement was made in the quality of mobile patient engagement apps? One may be a lack of resources, as well as possible conflict in internal politics, and complications in implementation. The overarching issue, according to John Deutsch, CEO and founder of Bridge Patient Portal, is that healthcare systems are not recognizing the connection between a high-functioning mhealth app and better patient engagement, which has been shown to improve outcomes and reduce bad debt. According to Accenture’s 2015 report, large healthcare systems and networks providing an innovative digital patient engagement platform have the opportunity to save $100 Million per year per hospital in avoided revenue loss.

As healthcare mobile app implementation grows, the focus should be on patient engagement through superior mhealth apps. If these superior apps are able to offer the functionalities requested by patients, it will make them more loyal to the hospital brand.  

This article is brought to you by Medical Web Experts, a leading provider of custom web development and marketing solutions for the healthcare industry, meeting the sector’s the increasing demand for HIPAA-compliant technology and digital patient services. Medical Web Experts creatively helps clients to gain competitive edge by leveraging the latest technologies to improve efficiency, enhance their web presence, and heighten patient engagement.

 

Leave a comment