Medical apps will likely become an important healthcare tool once barriers such as reimbursement and regulatory issues are fully addressed. There are many ways in which app developers and their commercial partners can penetrate the healthcare market.
However, there are other non-commercial ways that I believe will be even more effective because they will involve infusing healthcare with the concept and culture of medical apps. For example:
1. The incorporation of medical apps in informatics training. Informatics recently became a new medical specialty. Medical informaticists, knowledge officers and care coordinators trained in this new area of clinical IT will be using both big data and patients’ own personally derived data from the EHR. This will lead to customized inpatient and discharge care plans. These plans will incorporate patient monitoring, education and information furnished via mobile apps. The adoption will therefore take place at the point of care.
2. Schools. Hygiene and health classes will in the future involve teaching children about the use and value of health and wellness apps. Currently, parents and teachers can take advantage of apps targeting learning disabilities. Exercise, nutritional advice and monitoring apps can be especially beneficial to this population. The economic scaling of these apps is appealing to school districts and the technology slant of it might encourage students to get involved in IT and other related fields.
3. Government initiatives. The White House recently announced a digital government initiative in which mobile solutions were highlighted. Government endorsement of mHealth is critical from a few standpoints. It will become the central and necessary focal point for addressing regulatory, educational and reimbursement issues relevant to this new industry soon to become an integral part of healthcare. This initiative can only be effective if it involves industry and clinical people who can minimize the regulatory constraints and facilitate implementation by having apples-to-apples conversations with providers and patients.
4. Clinical decision support is becoming a larger part of EHRs because of stage 2 of meaningful use. A natural progression is to have clinical decision support recommend certain medical apps either based on customized decision support or on professional society practice guidelines. These apps will not necessarily be part of the support or guidelines but will address recommendations made by them.
5. Patient portals. PHRs provided by insurers, healthcare providers or crowdsource communities may incorporate apps in their wellness and care coordination, medical follow-up and information-gathering, respectively. This path is appropriate because it is patient-centric and dovetails with goals of patient portals. Commercial patient portals are far more advanced than EHR-based portals.
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