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Co-authored with Matt O’Leary
While there’s clearly a lot of excitement for healthcare in mobile, the developing mHealth ecosystem has over 40,000 healthcare apps on the market. Only a small percentage of these are even half-useful for the people they serve: healthcare providers and patients. Most of them make a limited impact because their developers don’t make them compatible with existing solutions, and because they fail to measure performance and understand which areas require improvement. We observed at mHealth Summit 13 that there were two crucial factors that would result in much better mobile health solutions: interoperability and analytics.
At mHealth Summit 13, the Director of West Health Policy Centre, Kerry McDermott, led a session entitled “Driving Medical Interoperability to Improve Care and Lower Costs.” Continua Health Alliance’s Chuck Parker also held a session, focusing on how “Denmark Implements National HIT Interoperability Standards.” While interoperability may sound confusing, it boils down to a simple concept: in their mHealth Insights report, PWC defines interoperability as the ability to create end-to-end solutions by interconnecting components and systems from multiple vendors, forming a network. In simpler terms, interoperability is the ability to exchange information between multiple systems. Historically, health information systems have been the opposite: they are closed off and frequently require physical transport. Today, operations in large organizations call for a closed approach, intended to create an enclosed customer base. However, this severely limits healthcare providers’ abilities to understand patients’ health histories or share context with other healthcare providers. Fortunately for healthcare patients and practitioners, this trend is slowly starting to shift. The change to more interoperable health services is being led by initiatives around the world. Even large companies are making the changes: Etisalat’s program for pregnant mothers, called “Mobile Baby,” allows for Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) to stay connected throughout the birthing process and provides support for in-home deliveries or is alerted to symptoms or complications (if any) through the mobile app. It is built to connect external parties, like health transportation drivers and healthcare providers. Eventually, the more interoperable these technology solutions become, the greater their ability to integrate with other sensors and hardware devices. Instead of each company being forced to build their own hardware, hardware will become standardized, which increases confidence in regulators and patients. According to the TechTarget 2013 Mobile Health Trends survey, 51% of respondents believed that data sharing and interoperability needs was a major factor driving the use of mobile devices.
Sheridan Group Tech Lab’s Mobile Product Manager, Alicia Dixon, hosted a session at the pre-conference WIPJAM entitled, “Measure Your Progress and Your Success.” She pointed out today’s general mentality in developers: Code now, measure performance later. Instead, Dixon recommended baking performance into the development of the app, and offered a three-step procedure to measuring success: focus on data collection, data analysis, and taking action. The first step to measuring success is collecting information. In this case, you need to examine what your business needs are today and compare that to where you want your business to be. Effective measurements are quantitative, simple to understand, visible (tangible), clearly defined, and focused. Common metrics include demographics, acquisition (new users), retention (returning users), uninstall and download comparison, App Store ratings, user session length, and in-app behavior, which could be most used features and exit points. Conversely, you also want to avoid “vanity metrics” – unique users, total cost, total sessions, and a pure download count. Instead, average the costs out per active user. Use tools like Distimo, Localytics, and Google Analytics. In order to dive deeper into operations, have a look at software such as Crittercism and Crashlytics. In the second phase of measuring success, involving data analysis, you’ll want to evaluate the data consistently and frequently (e.g., once per month or once every quarter). Also let your decisions by dictated with what makes sense for your business. You can then compare your data against benchmarks and goals to track the app’s progress, and quantify results. Make someone in the organization accountable for tracking your apps’ analytics. After you’ve analyzed the data, take action: implement the changes you need to reach your goals. You can’t manage what you don’t measure; include tracking performance during the development of the health app.
Interoperability and analytics open up a vast range of opportunities for healthcare services. Mobile is already a popular medium for healthcare, but the majority of apps only inform – they don’t guide, remind, or alert users; in other words, they don’t help users take action. In order to ensure that your app is useful and meaningful, measure performance to see whether people are using your apps. In order to rapidly extend your healthcare app’s capabilities, make it interoperable with other systems.