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Apologies to President Trump for the paraphrase, but it’s true–apps are hard.

The ideas are easy enough—everyone can come up with more than a few ways smartphones can make healthcare better. For my next outpatient visit, for instance, I’d like to check in remotely and be guided to the clinic as easily as I request an Uber and fly through TSA Pre-check on a business trip. Recovery would be faster and better if an app reminded me to do my follow-up care. Health systems could deliver higher-value care with less waste and expense if their apps personalized the patient experience, increasing adherence and engagement between visits. Wouldn’t you love to connect with your healthcare consumers via a device they look at 150 times a day?

The execution, however, is not that simple. While our phones have the power to display high-resolution imaging lab results (as I saw at GE’s booth at HIMSS), the ability to configure and connect apps to meaningful use cases is ever-elusive…and expensive. One of my favorite sessions at HIMSS this year illustrated how some of the simplest mHealth roadblocks can prove to be the most frustrating to those who are trying to push the envelope of mHealth, especially when faced with a digital learning curve new to many in the healthcare space.

Neil Gomes and Robert Neff, who lead Jefferson’s Center for Digital Innovation and Consumer Experience, gave the talk Strength through Insight: ResearchKit Apps for PROs. Their goal was to enhance cancer care through treatment-centered monitoring, using phones to collect electronic patient-reported outcomes measures for prostate cancer patients. They created a health monitoring app using Apple’s health kit as a rapid development tool so participants could simply report health status at baseline, during, and after treatment.

Gomes and Neff shared valuable learnings and novel approaches to solve the usual suspects that delay and sometimes derail in-house app projects, like back-end system integration, data permanence, user experience design, HIPAA, and so forth. However, I most appreciated how Neil took the time to address the real-world problems that many app builders don’t anticipate. For them, this took the form of actually getting the app on patients’ phones. A reasonable expectation is that this would be a 3-minute process, well within the timeframe of the 15-minute visit—in reality, it actually took as long as 48 minutes. That’s because most patients don’t download a lot of apps, so they forget their iTunes password and end up having to do multiple password resets. Imagine the frustration, the backlog, the horror…the lost revenue! If you check out Slide 18 of their presentation, they clearly illustrated the sad fact that healthcare transformers like Gomes and Neff are slowed down by an issue that Apple could easily solve—by implementing “Enterprise Distribution” distributing apps in healthcare and research would be simpler and more scalable, but Apple’s current terms of service don’t really fit the “prescribed apps” model.

There are plenty of problems to solve in mHealth, and the reward is worth it—Gomes and Neff agree and they have pledged to keep innovating. One way to maximize that potential is to work closely with a team who can anticipate the challenges in building the app. MobileSmith makes that easy, offering a consumer-grade, enterprise-strength platform to take care of the front end, letting you avoid the simple problems and focus your energy and resources on your interoperability and informatics projects.

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