I had the good fortune of chatting with Harry Reynolds, the Director of Health Industry Transformation at IBM, at the 2014 mHealth Summit in Washington DC. We talked about what makes a good app. Here is a link to the video.
You are dealing with people, not patients
Harry pointed out that the healthcare industry has always tended to think of people as patients or as members of a health insurance plan. “However,” he said, “when you are developing apps, you have to remember that you are dealing with people who are consumers, who are parents, who are or have children.”
Healthcare apps are going to be compared to apps that people use in the rest of their lives. So, they have to be straightforward and 5 star. They also have to be stable. “The second time you call up the app and it doesn’t respond quick enough, it will go away. Healthcare apps are going to be held to the standards that other industries have created over the last few years. It is a high order, it is a high bar. It is going to be really interesting to watch healthcare as [IBM] and others help transform [the industry] into one that deals with the patient (or member) as a person.”
When I asked Harry to give some examples of healthcare apps that really work, he responded that,
“I was in Europe and I ran into a company dealing with diabetes. Eight of their employees are diabetics. They have created an app and capability that relates to ‘what is it like in the day of a diabetic.’ They are living it. They are literally creating something that is relevant daily. The CEO was coming to meet with us. Through the app, he was able to decide how much insulin he would use that morning because he knew that he would be walking 500 meters from the train at a brisk pace, based on his schedule, to come meet with us. His app helped him to change his insulin dose that morning based on his activities that day.”
Is the app related to who I am in healthcare?
Harry says app developers should ask themselves: “Is it relevant? Is it easy to use? Is it related to me? And, most important, is it related to who I am in healthcare?”
There’s a lot of data about individuals in the health care system: Doctors know some things; payers know some things; and there are many other sources of data and analytics. Are they included in the app? “There are many apps out there, but if they are not connected to data about me and don’t help me, then they are just a transaction and are not a part of my daily life…not relevant daily and not something that I am going to use to change my life.”
How IBM works with app developers
Apps have to be secure, relevant, and available. They also have to be scalable: “if you put a good app out there and all of a sudden everyone is using it, then you have to be ready for everyone to use it.”
Harry goes on to say, “We are building a platform to allow any developer to have a secure ‘power grid’ that would allow you to have a base and almost plug the apps in, almost like Lego blocks.” Also, IBM has significant analytics capabilities that “allow you to capture and use the person’s information, from a variety of sources (doctors, payers), so that you can treat ‘me for me.”
The takeaway from this conversation is that healthcare apps need to be designed so that they are relevant and useful to each individual…if not, they are destined to sit “on the shelf” with tens of thousands of unused, unwanted apps—and that is not good for anyone.