New Mobile Applications Are Critical to the Future of Healthcare

By Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — March 15, 2012

As clearly demonstrated by UnitedHealth Group, and as UnitedHealth demonstrated in a big way at CES, mobile-based applications for iOS and Android (with planned support for both WP7 and Windows 8 down the road), are becoming health care industry differentiators. Healthcare, pharmaceutical and health insurance providers are quickly moving to mobile applications in order to connect more directly with their consumer audiences not only to provide "stay healthy" incentives, but to also begin using mobile devices to rapidly connect insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, clinics and patients quickly. 
 
Mobility begins to solve two long standing issues in healthcare - time to access patient (and provider) information, and accuracy of patient information, whether personal data or medical data. New mobile applications will be essential to ddeliver on the promise.
 
Larger healthcare providers (e.g. hospitals) are now beginning to build out extensive (typically WiFi-based) wireless infrastructure. Ottawa Hospital is a good example. To put these extensive new wireless capabilities to use hospitals are turning to mobile devices - with iPads leading the way, but with new Android hardware beginning to make inroads. Application development consists of both converting existing medical applications (such as CPOE) as well as developing entirely new mobile apps to take advantage of proliferating mobile devices. 
 
The new iPad - with its retina-quality display, and more importantly its new quad-core graphics capabilities - is an excellent example of a mobile device that will accelerate hospital usage - especially in the ER and operating room. One of the key ER and operating room complaints of iPad 2s and Android tablets has been slow processing speeds and lack of resolution for medical images.

Look to hospitals to rapidly begin exploring the new iPad's capabilities here. New mobile apps - not retrofitted old PC-based apps - will be essential to ensuring effective iPad (and other new tablet) use. Rapid development of new - and especially native - mobile applications - including the ability to manage those apps and rapidly customize them - will be at the core of health provider mobile strategy over the next 5 years.
 
Look for large caregivers to build both high-end internal native mobile applications and hybrid/HTML5 applications for consumer-facing app needs. We anticipate healthcare driving extensive new mobile capabilities and in many ways providing numerous new ways to effectively utilize both internal- and external-facing mobile capabilities. As with any mobile-driven application, time to market, effective app management, and rapid testing and deployment will be key issues for healthcare industry IT. 
 
Mobile Devices - Especially iPhones and iPads - Are Everywhere
 
How prevalent are mobile devices - and in particular iPads and iPhones? Joseph Dechow, Manager, IS Infrastructure at Munson Medical Center (as well as a Mobile Enterprise Advisory Board member) notes, "I've been watching how Munson Medical Center is seemingly moving – with or without IT! – to many more iOS devices, with people irreverently tossing aside their other devices in favor of anything Apple.  What is intriguing to me is that I am seeing doctors and rank and file hospital employees buying their own i-something and using them while kicking aside the Windows-based devices we supply them.  Why?  They all tell me 'because they work, they are intuitive…and did I mention they work?”
 
Dechow adds, "We seem to be poster children for the BYOD movement. I have nearly no power to dictate to a Physician what device to use. They want Apple and maybe a few that are more techie in nature like Android. In my community we IT folks are literally having our fingers pulled from the dike of security and control to BYOD, and what they want to bring is an Apple device.  Build a better mousetrap and they will come?  Perhaps there is an app for that!"
 
In many, if not most ways, the mobile rules of the road for building new mobile applications that healthcare providers need to follow is no different than the roads enterprises and SMBs in all walks of business life need to follow: First, make sure to find the right Mobile Applications Platform vendor to work with. It is critical to have the right mobile apps development partner in your corner. Many healthcare applications are complex in nature and are likely to require building native apps - a mobile apps platform vendor is vital for success here.
 
Second, strongly consider the use of mobile cloud environments. Even though healthcare providers must take into account an enormous number of stringent federal, state, and local rules and regulations, for the most part the use of a mobile cloud environment for delivering mobile applications is the best way to build those apps.

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