Mobile health apps promise to revolutionize how some healthcare services are provided, and there is considerable potential for sizable reductions in operational costs to be achieved; however, physician healthcare app use is not any anywhere close to the level required for cost savings to be realized. How can providers actually encourage the use of mobile health apps among physicians?
What is Holding Back Physician Healthcare App use?
There isn’t exactly a shortage of healthcare apps to choose from. This year’s Consumer Electronics Association’s CES conference allowed approximately 3,000 worldwide app development companies to showcase their new, exciting and in many – but not all –highly useful healthcare apps.
Uptake of these apps may be slow, but that doesn’t appear to have curbed developers’ enthusiasm. The apps have considerable potential, if only physicians can be convinced to use them.
One problem is HIPAA. The storage and transmission of healthcare data is highly regulated, and healthcare providers and physicians need to be assured that the apps not only do what they claim, but that they do so securely and do not place patient data at risk. There is also the long and tedious process of gaining FDA approval to consider; a process that is much slower than the pace of technological development. Apps can be developed faster, but there is a considerable lag before they are approved and are brought to market.
The West Health Institute, a non-profit organization focused on lowering healthcare costs, is well aware of the current problem. Senior director of healthcare technology policy for the institute, Kerry McDermott – also the former head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – recently explained one of the key problems preventing the use of mobile apps in healthcare.
She says, “The FDA is trying to set up guidance in the mobile app space. They are really trying to take a light-touch approach. There are so many apps that can do good; regulators want to let them flourish. Policy is a very blunt instrument. In today’s world that doesn’t cut it anymore. We need something to be more tailored.”
App developers must be given more guidance on privacy and security matters, as well as further information about their responsibilities to develop products that are compliant with HIPAA regulations. mHealth can be used to reduce costs and improve the delivery of healthcare services, but only if the regulations surrounding the use of mHealth solutions in healthcare are made clear. Then, and only then, can the technical issues surrounding the incorporation of mHealth solutions can be resolved.
If HIPAA-compliance is assured, physicians can then be convinced to start using apps and start gaining the benefits. However, time is money. Unless doctors receive payment for using apps (and learning how to use them), is uptake likely to increase. Physicians are not going to give any new apps the time of day unless there is a clear incentive for doing so.