New research indicates that hospitals still aren’t meeting the mHealth demands of consumers, and it’s costing them money and new business.
A report from Accenture finds that two-thirds of the nation’s largest hospitals offer mobile apps to their patients, but only 2 percent of those patients are using them. That’s because few apps include at least one of three functions – access to medical records, appointment scheduling and prescription refills – most favored by patients.
“Simply having a mobile app is not enough,” Brian Kalis, managing director of Accenture’s health practice, said in a press release. “Hospital apps are failing to engage patients by not aligning their functionality and user experience with what consumers expect and need. Consumers want ubiquitous access to products and services as part of their customer experience, and those who become disillusioned with a provider’s mobile services - or a lack thereof - could look elsewhere for services.”
The report veers slightly from typical studies on mHealth adoption, which find that both consumers and providers are bullish on the technology. Instead, Accenture’s study finds that providers have their own ideas about what consumers want, and they aren’t paying attention to consumer needs in developing a digital health platform.
Could that be a problem? Quite definitely. The Accenture report indicates this gap could cost hospitals some $100 million in annual revenues, while the percentage of consumers who have switched providers due to a lack of mHealth resources stands at 7 percent now and could go much higher – perhaps even approaching the 30 percent rate seen in retail.
“Today’s consumers place more expectations on their providers to interact digitally, driven by the customer experiences they have had with services in other industries, and most providers are letting them down,” the report states. “Thus in the increasingly competitive healthcare market, providers that ignore the mobility needs of today’s always-on patients could lose them to competitors.”
The difference between what consumers want and what providers think they want was the subject of a panel discussion at last year’s mHealth Summit outside Washington, D.C. That panel featured four designers of consumer-facing apps, who noted that providers often forget to do one simple task in designing an app: Ask their patients what matters most to them.
"Don't assume you know what's important to patients," Ophelia Chiu, head of design strategy and innovation for New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said. While working on the MyMSK app early in 2015, she said, "we actually asked them what they needed and we designed that into the specifications."
Another top hospital, Boston’s Children’s, makes sure its apps aren’t just mobile links to portals.
"We understand that care starts well before they come to the hospital and doesn't end when they leave the institution," Nitin Gujral, part of digital health program at the hospital that has been designing successful apps for the past six years.
Accenture’s research targeted both hospitals that develop their own apps (about 38 percent) and those using outside apps, such as WebMD, ZocDoc and iTriage. Of that percentage of hospitals who develop their own apps, however, roughly 11 percent include at least one of the three most-desired functions of consumers.
Meanwhile, of those providers who “get it right” – who offer an mHealth platform that meets consumers’ needs, like offering scheduling, access to medical records and/or prescription refills - various surveys have found patient satisfaction rates between 55 percent and 69 percent.
“Mobile engagement is becoming increasingly critical to the success of every hospital in the digital age,” Kalis said. “Today it’s all about enabling an individualized approach, where patients are empowered to help manage their own care. Large hospitals that design and build experiences as well as partner with digital disruptors will have the ability to better engage with their patients, which will enhance patient loyalty – thereby enabling the hospitals to protect their revenues.”