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Digital health and app experience: Rules of the road are needed now

The first in a two-part series focusing on how CEOs can lead a new level of IT deployment.

Tom Sullivan | October 7, 2020

The market is flooded with apps and digital technologies that promise to improve outcomes and strengthen the physician-patient relationship. But to achieve that health care executives need evidence and guidelines to inform which technologies are safe and effective to recommend to patients, and which are not. 

“Health care is at an interesting moment,” said Aneesh Chopra, President, CareJourney. “We have to run to the new digital world while operating on legacy technology that feels looks more and more like a money pit of custom interfaces, and bespoke connections.” 

Relative to facilitating a new level of IT deployment to move into that era, CEOs can spearhead their organization’s efforts to drive impactful change in two critical areas:

    • Digital health and app experience
    • Governance and use of patient data in health IT products

This article will examine digital health and app experience and the second in this two-part series will focus on patient data governance in health IT products.

How health care organizations are approaching apps for patient use 
Health Evolution Forum’s preliminary survey data found that organizations take the following approaches to developing lists of recommended apps for patient use:

    • We develop our own list of recommended apps – 44%
    • We use a third party’s list of recommended apps – 6%
    • We leave it to individual clinicians to make recommendations – 0%
    • We have not yet developed an approach for recommending apps for patients – 50%

“A majority basically said, ‘we do not yet have a plan for recommending or managing these apps,’” Chopra noted. “There’s an opportunity to add a bit more guidance to patients as it relates to privacy warnings for apps that fail to adhere to industry codes of conduct, for example.” 

Having a clear set of guidelines that can incorporate the rules of the road and nontechnical methods will help to accelerate the power and potential of apps and infrastructure.

Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has undertaken what Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Vice President Sukanya Soderland described as an intensive effort to comply with interoperability regulations that go into effect next year.

“We are currently in the process of deepening our strategy for how to use digital tools to strengthen relationships with members, be more personalized and avoid downstream disintermediation in light of the possibilities emerging from the new interoperability rules,” Soderland said.

Chronic conditions, and diabetes in particular, have emerged as market leading categories for apps — while COVID-19 has corelated to spikes in mental health technologies and treatments.

“The primordial muse is behavioral health,” said Steve Klasko, MD, CEO of Jefferson Health and President of Thomas Jefferson University.

That said, between the first quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2020, the number of health apps in Apple’s App Store rose from 28,343 to 45,791, according to Stastista, while Google’s Play store soared from 23,995 to 46,360 in the same time period.

Payer and provider use of apps is not limited to the app stores and, instead, digital transformation is changing the vendor-vendee relationship such that enterprise including Jefferson work in partnership with technology providers to solve problems. Klasko enters into those arrangements with the understanding that a solution working for Jefferson will also likely be something that 800 other hospitals need.

“Every one of these things is a thin-edge-of-the-wedge situation,” Klasko said. “Once somebody allows you into their digital footprint amazingly positive things can happen but there are real issues if it gets into the wrong hands.” 

Ensuring that patient data does not wind up in the wrong hands, of course, is a matter of privacy and security under strong governance.

What comes next?
To identify best practices that are already working in some sectors of the industry and then disseminate those broadly, the Health Evolution Forum, consisting of nearly 200 provider, payer and life sciences CEOs, ratified Next Generation IT in Health Care Work Groups to address: Digital Health and App Experience as well as Governance and Use of Patient Data in Health IT Products

Progress for both Work Groups will be measured against the number of payer, provider and life sciences organizations adopting the voluntary guidelines.

The Work Group on Digital Health and App Experience will also measure the adoption of apps by patients within health systems following the guidelines, while the Work Group on Governance and Use of Patient Data in Health IT Products will collect information from payer, provider and life sciences companies concerning how those organizations and AI companies measure ethical impact, including health inequity, medical error attribution and clinical balancing measures. 

“Having a clear set of guidelines that can incorporate the rules of the road and nontechnical methods will help to accelerate the power and potential of apps and infrastructure,” Chopra said.

Homepage photo credit: Canva bongkarn thanyakij

About the Author

Tom Sullivan, EVP & Editor-in-Chief of Digital Content

Tom Sullivan brings more than two decades in editing and journalism experience to Health Evolution. Sullivan most recently served as Editor-in-Chief at HIMSS, leading Healthcare IT News, Health Finance, MobiHealthNews. Prior to HIMSS Media, Sullivan was News Editor of IDG’s InfoWorld, directing a dozen reporters’ coverage for the weekly print publication and daily website.