What’s needed for Healthcare innovation – Health Apps or a Platform?

By Chris Maconi | @ChrisMaconi

It’s the platform, stupid.

You may remember the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” from the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. It was used as one of three talking points for the campaign, and the other two messages were, “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget healthcare”.

Amazingly, all three of these slogans apply to the state of US healthcare today and are as relevant as they were in 1992.  As discussed in my previous blog post: Transforming Healthcare with Technology, we face the very important task of building a healthcare system that can care for a large, aging population as they enter their peak healthcare consumption years.

It is clear that our healthcare system must change, as “more of the same” won’t address the problems in an economically feasible way.

An attempt to change healthcare

Many startup companies are attempting to change healthcare through apps and devices. While these products are great at encouraging patients toward wellness and at providing valuable feedback, they have been woefully disconnected from the healthcare ecosystem.

For the patient managing their health through multiple apps, it’s a challenge when they want to combine that data so it’s useful. For the provider, it’s a challenge to consider how to deploy and manage the data and apps they may want to leverage with their patient population. Imagine if this data could be integrated. Now, patients and providers actively collaborate – resulting in better care and outcomes.

So, build a health app?

Maybe, but first, consider…

Through years of working closely with our customers, it has become clear — the way to attack the challenge of engaging with patients through one or more apps is to ensure that they share a unified backend platform.  A platform provides the core infrastructure necessary for running multiple apps and provides the capabilities necessary to handle the common elements shared across all the apps that sit on top of it.

For example, in most cases the patient will have:

  • A profile
  • Care plans and treatment directives
  • Regular questions related to their mood, symptoms, treatment, and/or care feedback
  • Data points across their devices
  • Communications they’d like to share with their providers

Rather than building this functionality redundantly across apps (or licensing individual applications from a crowd of vendors), a platform approach allows you to focus solely on the health app’s unique requirements.

We know no two providers are exactly the same.  Sure, their workflows and methodologies may be similar, say with an 80% crossover, but there is always a natural variance.  Many app developers take a ‘my way or the highway‘ approach — hard coding the care protocols and interactions into the application itself.  This approach is limiting and forces provider to fall in line or search for workarounds to resolve conflicts in workflow.

An important aspect of innovative care and effective use of patient-generated data is the ability to quickly iterate and experiment with new scenarios. With the app-only approach, changes in protocol require costly code changes and re-deployments, which patients may or may not upgrade to.  Providers need solutions that mold to their needs and clinical workflows.  The platform approach facilitates experimentation with as little friction as possible.

A platform also enables integration and interoperability. Once you’ve solved the integration challenge for one app, you’ve solved it for them all.  Providers now have a unified view, in real time, as the patient interacts across the various apps.  This improves the ability to consider a patient’s health holistically and manage care plans across disease conditions.

Add in a single environment from which to deploy and manage your apps, and you have a winning formula for operating at scale.

A digital health platform is the solution.

The industry is still in the early stages of figuring out how to integrate patient-centered health apps, and digital health platforms.

Providers and payers are actively thinking about how to leverage technology to efficiently deliver care, better engage with patients, improve outcomes, and innovate. As organizations look to move from experimentation and pet projects into operating at scale, a platform approach will be the key to a much higher likelihood of success and ROI.

What’s needed for Healthcare innovation – Health Apps or a Platform?

Chris is the CPO at DatStat. He brings more than 15 years of software product experience, with a proven ability to transform industries through the application of innovative technology solutions. His strong belief in design-driven product development and his experience building scalable, data-centric platforms to transform how providers and health researchers engage with their patients and achieve outcomes.

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