How Health Systems Can Leverage Mobile Apps To Solve Complex Population Health Issues

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By Syed S. Shehab, MD

Addressing the number preventable cause of U.S. deaths through technology 

Healthcare systems in the U.S. are challenged with creating a healthier population and providing a better healthcare experience for patients—all while decreasing costs. Despite new strategies, innovations and large-scale policy efforts, there has not been much change when it comes to meeting all three goals in tandem. Establishing an approach to population health seems to be the most logical place to start, especially as more providers adopt value-based care models. An obvious solution for health systems is the integration of technology and usage of new applications to support value-based care models. 

With recent attempts to integrate health records with consumer data, there are researchers and app developers getting access to these data sets. As such, health systems now have a unique opportunity to invest in the creation of evidence-based, bespoke interfaces/apps to address lingering public health challenges. Doing so could potentially cut billions of dollars in healthcare costs. 

Where to Start?

In the arena of population health, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Even with policy shifts, the prevalence of smoking in the US remains at 15%, with cigarette smoking killing more than 480,000 Americans each year, and an additional 33,951 annual deaths from heart disease caused by second-hand smoke. Even more concerning is the continued popularity of smoking among American youth —If smoking continues at the current rate in this country, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. The statistics are staggering and sheds light on the need for a larger scale solution to help curb smoking overall or help those who are quitting and need assistance. 

The success of past, large-scale public health programs has stagnated, and consumers who are not accessing traditional cessation services, such as counselors or pamphlets, need a better option that is more aligned with their regular behaviors—like using a mobile device. Not surprisingly, mobile technologies offer a powerful medium for providing individual-level support to healthcare consumers. Leveraging mobile technology can seamlessly integrate into a patient’s day-to-day life and effortlessly engage the younger population.

Also, there is substantial evidence that internet-based cognitive therapy has considerable potential in delivering structured behavioral programs which might help mitigate the risk posed by the increase in nicotine use amongst younger Americans.  Imagine if the ease of mobile devices and the results of internet-based cognitive therapy were combined?

How are Healthcare Technologies Evolving to Meet this Need?

In June of 2018, Apple announced the launch of Apple’s Health Records API (application programming interface) which allows developers to create apps that use data from patients’ electronic health records (EHRs) to help manage care, medications, nutrition, and other health-related issues.

The API builds off Apple Health Records, which was launched earlier in 2018, and was designed to aggregate existing patient-generated data in a user’s Health app with data from their EHR— if the user is a patient at a participating hospital. So far, we have seen interest generated from some of the country’s biggest hospitals—such as; Stanford Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, Partners Health Care, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Duke University Medical Center. 

This platform will allow app developers to potentially integrate the information from health records and pair it with HealthKit data (from an Apple device) to generate creative solutions for chronic disease management, patient adherence and the improvement the overall patient experience. 

The Democratization of Healthcare Data: How to Take Advantage?

Most healthcare systems and insurers would be wise to invest in these technologies, especially with the rise of in consumerism in healthcare and with patients wanting to take more control of their care.  These healthcare technology trends also present a tremendous opportunity for healthcare startups, app developers and other non-traditional healthcare players to enter and disrupt the current landscape. Given the recent democratization of healthcare data and the proven track record of past success with internet-based structural behavioral programs, we are hopeful that we will see new smoking cessation software on the market.  App usage provides a great proposition to rejuvenate a wildly successful public health campaign, and offers an opportunity for health systems to cut $300 billion in health costs.  

Syed S. Shehab, MD is a Health + Life Science Consultant at Fuld + Company. After a stint in Internal Medicine at the Boston Medical Center, Syed decided to join the consulting world. Syed is interested in solving at the structural issues in healthcare. At Fuld + Co he works with clients to understand the current healthcare market place and develop strategies to stay competitive, improve patient access and the quality of care delivered. His interests range from healthcare reform, healthcare innovation, value-based care to population health. Syed attended Medical School at Larner College of Medicine, at the University of Vermont, and earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Vassar College with a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Physics. He is a contributing writer for various medical blogs and in his free time he likes to read narrative non-fiction.

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