One could not walk ten feet in the Orlando Convention Center during last week’s HIMSS-14 conference without hearing someone talking about better patient engagement. The phrase was on everyone’s mind and was a key focus of many presentations and exhibitors. Keynote speaker Mark Bertolini emphasized the industry’s need to utilize technology to develop better patient engagement strategies. “How do we engage people? How do we make it work?” asked Bertolini, “We put it in the palm of their hand.”

HIMSS-14 mHealth Trends
At HIMSS-14, mHealth was one of the key healthcare technology trends we observed. Even to the naked eye, the numbers of hospitals embracing mobile apps as well as healthcare solution providers offering apps have grown significantly from last year.  The 2014 HIMSS Analytics Mobile Survey supports our impression: according to its findings, 35% of healthcare providers now offer mobile apps, up 11% from last year. The survey also disclosed that 59% of organizations have some sort of mobile health strategy in place, and an additional 29% are in the process of developing a strategy.

mHealth Solution Trends

The majority of HIMSS-14 mHealth solutions we saw, however, focused on single specific healthcare use cases; be it access to a particular set of patient data, or the monitoring of a specific condition.  The PatientKeeper mobile app allows physicians to easily capture and view charges.  Other apps are providing an interface to a particular EHR or monitoring system.  The challenge many solutions purport to solve is seamless access to patient data from admission to post-discharge and ensuring a connected healthcare experience.

The task to mobilize a patient’s entire healthcare journey is not an easy one, however.  Data security is still a major concern. That explains the reluctance of many healthcare providers to connect EHRs with online portals or mobile apps.  Besides, each provider develops their unique methods of working with their particular patient demographics.  One app cannot fit all needs – even if it be the fittest app in today’s mHealth app jungle. The stakeholders’ lack of control over the development of the mobile use cases is always the stumbling block.

Physicians recognize this challenge.  According to QuantiaMD’s survey of 1,500 physicians released just prior to HIMSS-14, only 37% of physicians have prescribed an mHealth app for their patients.  The survey cites various reasons such as lack of regulation, especially as the movement to enable self-care is advanced through medical apps.  Many physicians simply don’t know what apps are out there, or see any data to support their usage.

Cost is another major deterrent.  While mHealth was promoted almost universally throughout the Orlando Convention Center, over half of the organizations surveyed by HIMSS were not adopting mobile technology, and the overwhelming reason was cost. “CIOs are now thinking like CFOs,” described a recent iHealthBeat article, “The number one challenge hospital CIOs cited in the HIMSS Leadership Survey was financial concerns.” 77% of surveyed clinicians said they use third party apps, and only 32% are developing their own apps internally. The majority of organizations with applications preferred to use a specific health IT vendor to develop their apps, perhaps the main reason for the costliness of mobile technology in the apps industry.

We certainly felt the massive market demand for mHealth apps and the manifold constraints plaguing this industry.  That’s why our tiny 10×10 booth was such a magnet for HIMSS-14 attendees.  The appeal of our flexible, do-it-yourself approach to building patient engagement apps was obvious. With MobileSmith, healthcare providers are discovering a way to build native apps quicker and more affordably, while bringing app development closer to the stakeholders – marketers, clinicians, and administrators.  They are the ones closest to the patient, and our platform empowers them to take mHealth app development into their own hands.

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