When the program manager for the Executive Health program at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) came to Andrew Quinn, Interactive Marketing Director, and asked him to put the program’s printable exercise guide up on the website, Quinn suggested a different approach, a mobile solution. “Everyone has smart phones these days, especially this particular patient population of busy executives, and that’s what they’re going to take with them to the gym,” said Quinn.
Web App for Executives, Built In House
Quinn’s in-house team got to work and developed an Executive Health Web app that evolved beyond the printable exercise guide to include tips, tutorials, and a health tracker. Patients can schedule an appointment or ask a doctor a question through the app. It was well received. The only problem was, as a browser-dependent Web app, users had to be online to use it. If the fitness room happened to be in a dead zone with no Internet connection, the app would not work.
Native App Advantages
“We really wanted to get it into the native app space,” Quinn said. Native apps, unlike Web apps that work across platforms, are designed for specific mobile device such as Apple or Android. Although there are no discernible differences in the look and functionality of mobile apps vs. native apps, Quinn explained that native apps have features that are unique. “Having an app in a native format makes it function a lot faster,” he said. “It’s being loaded from a native environment rather than depending on an Internet connection for the mobile.” Another advantage is broad distribution in app stores like iTunes and Google Play and connection to the Apple and Android markets.
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MobileSmith’s Native App Development Platform
Quinn’s team did not have the expertise in house to develop native apps and chose to work with MobileSmith, based in Raleigh, N.C. MobileSmith’s native app platform offers clients “the ability to rapidly create, deploy, and manage native apps,” according to the company’s website.
The platform functions like a content management system for application development. “The Web-based application that MobileSmith has for their clients allows you to drag and drop elements that you want to include and plug them in,” Quinn said. “You don’t need a computer science degree to use this product,” he said, but added that familiarity with content management systems is helpful.
The native app version of the Executive Health app went live in January. To date 59 users have installed the IOS version, and 50 have installed the Android version.
Library of Pre-Built Modules Speeds Development
Another selling point of MobileSmith’s solution from Quinn’s perspective was that MobileSmith had a lot of pre-built modules. The MobileSmith website currently features eight different pre-built apps:
- ER/Urgent Care
- General hospital information
- Cancer care
- Physician referral
- Medication tracking
- Health tracking
RWJUH’s second app, MyMeds was based on MobileSmith’s pre-built medication tracking app. MobileSmith’s team worked with Quinn and the hospital’s director of pharmacy to decide which features should be in the application. The pre-built app was the starting point, but the end product included all the additional functionality the client wanted. Summing up RWJUH’s experience with MobileSmith, Quinn said, “They think outside the box, they look at your success as their success.”
Business Units—Not IT Departments—Building Apps and Buying Software Solutions
“There’s a trend in technology right now where IT [departments] in organizations are not buying all the technology anymore” says Bob Dieterle, MobileSmith’s Chief Operating Officer and the originator of MobileSmith’s native app development platform. “More of the technology is ending up in the cloud, and business units are buying these products—they’re closer to the customer, and they can better understand their needs.”
Dieterle observed that hospital digital and social media managers and creative teams are interested in developing branded apps, but app development may be low on the IT department’s priority list. Because MobileSmith’s platform does not require programming, it allows marketing departments to develop apps for Apple and Android devices without needing to tap scarce IT resources.
Branded Hospital Apps Have Credibility
From a patient’s perspective, a branded app with reliable information from the local hospital has name recognition and credibility vs. an app from an unknown source. “There are so many mHealth applications out there, but do you trust them?” posed Dieterle. “Who’s creating these applications? Are they two kids in a garage trying to come out with a diabetes app?” Branded mobile apps have low adoption rates at hospitals—only 3% have them. Based on his discussions with hospitals, Dieterle believes this is primarily related to lean resources, or because they don’t know where to begin.
Healthcare Trends Driving Interest in Mobile Apps
Health system consolidation and population health are among the trends driving interest in mobile apps. “Health systems are buying up lots of urgent care facilities,” said Dieterle. “Mobile apps can be very useful for that. Mobile apps connect patients with hospital-affiliated urgent care clinics using the GPS functionality. “You want to find out where the closest [clinic] is, and what’s the wait time,” said Dieterle. Patients using urgent care apps are potentially able to stay in network, and receive care in a lower cost setting than the emergency room. Tanner Health System in Georgia worked with MobileSmith to develop its urgent care app. The app is featured on MobileSmith’s website.
Apps Focused on Patient Segments
Hospitals are beginning to target apps to specific patient populations, particularly those with chronic diseases, like congestive heart failure (CHF), who are prone to frequent hospitalizations. With hospitals facing penalties for avoidable readmissions, interest in mobile solutions to help high-risk patients and their caregivers successfully manage their conditions post-discharge is on the rise. RWJUH is currently developing an app for CHF patients.
MobileSmith does not currently connect to protected health information but is in the process of becoming HIPAA compliant to better meet client needs.
So What Does It Cost?
The pricing for MobileSmith’s app development platform is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription model. Customers pay a monthly fee to use the platform. The fee varies based on the number of active apps. Customers can make unlimited updates to apps, and the platform automatically sends the updates to people that have the apps installed on their smart phones. The time required to develop an app can be anywhere from two weeks to several months depending on the complexity.
Native Apps or Web Apps?
The benefit of MobileSmith’s native app development platform is that it allows organizations to develop and deploy native apps without the need of specialized in house programming expertise. Whether native apps developed specifically for mobile devices like Apple and Android will become the de facto standard, or Web apps developed to be cross-platform will dominate is a lively, ongoing debate.