Managers in most organizations are trying to figure out how to leverage technology to give them an edge – more revenue, better customer service, and increased profitability. But digital technologies bring some unique challenges to health and human services. And in our experience bringing new technologies to consumers in the field, those challenges fall into three categories – sorting through the volume of app offerings, understanding the evidence that underpins each of the available apps, and incorporating the app technology into the service workflow.
You’ve probably heard the Apple catch-phrase – “There’s an app for that.” In health and human services (like most of life), that is the case. In fact, in health care there are 165,000+ apps of some sort. The catch? Only 36 individual apps comprise nearly 50% of downloads (see IMS Health Study: Patient Options Expand As Mobile Healthcare Apps Address Wellness And Chronic Disease Treatment Needs and Patient Adoption Of mHealth).
Comprehending the sheer volume of offerings out there is a big first step – a first screening of what apps have the basic functionality that your organization is looking for. For example, in the upcoming issue of the OPEN MINDS Management Newsletter, we developed a short list of apps just focused on addiction treatment (see Smartphone Applications For Addiction Treatment & Recovery: The OPEN MINDS Short List, for a preview). And we’ve covered the issues related to size of offerings in the space before – Smartphones, More Popular Than Computers and The OPEN MINDS Tech List: Smartphone Applications.
The second big issue is the evidence behind each app – does it really work? But “work” is a subjective term. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a bit behind the curve, but trying to figure out how to address the efficacy issue without strangling innovation (see Paving The Way For Personalized Medicine, Overview Of FDA Expedited Programs With A Focus On Breakthrough Therapy, and FDA Accepts First Digital Medicine New Drug Application For Otsuka & Proteus Digital Health). A recent article on this topic, Should Mental Health App Developers Back Up Their Claims With Clinical Evidence?, is an interesting read with three varying opinions – John Torous, clinical fellow in psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Peter Hames, CEO of Big Health; and Thomas Goetz, CEO of Iodine.
Last but not least is the issue of the new service model that uses these new technologies. Reinventing operating processes and consumer interfaces with new technologies in mind are critical for success (see Assuring The Promise Of Technology Is The Reality Of Technology – Keys To Best Practice Tech Implementation, High Leverage From Low Tech: Health & Human Service Uses of Cell Phones, iPods, PDAs & More, and The Snags In ‘Speed To Market’ For Health Care Innovations). One of the challenges is that just 10% of apps can connect to a device or sensor and only two percent sync into the electronic health record (EHR) systems of provider organizations – functionality that could greatly improve both accuracy and convenience of data collection (see How Many Health Apps Actually Matter?). But, whatever the status of interoperability, for any new app technologies to succeed at scale, its use needs to be incorporated in standard operating processes – or they risk being a short-lived novelty.
I think one of the challenges with tech adoption in health and human service organizations – whether decision support, telehealth, or smartphone apps – is the preconceived notion that these technologies present an “all or nothing” choice for service delivery. Rather, managers need to develop hybrid service offerings that incorporate the best of new technology in a high-touch service world (for a great read on this, see Hybrid Business Models Look Ugly, But They Work, by Nathan Furr in Harvard Business Review). To paraphrase David C. Mohr, Ph.D. Director, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies & Professor, Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University, at The 2015 OPEN MINDS Technology & Innovation Institute – the real key is to integrate the use of apps into the care process and find the right tool for each group of consumers (see 165,000 Health Care Apps & Counting: What We’ve Learned & Where We’re Going With Digital Mental Health).
How to sort through these issues and select the best technology to accomplish your organization’s strategy? Use the same disciplined process that you use to select any innovation – strategy fit, clinical fit, and operational model (for more on our model, see How To Make Technology Work For You: Some Thoughts On Strategic Tech Success). One of the best uses of a disciplined selection process that I’ve seen is at Vinfen, in Boston. At the mhca Innovation Institute in August of 2015, Vinfen CEO Bruce L. Bird Ph.D. outlined their organization’s structured approach to selecting mobile technology in his presentation, Adapting New Technologies In Community Behavioral Health: Evolving Decision Matrices. (And don’t miss the upcoming mhca Innovation Institute, Sustainable Primary Care/Behavioral Health Integrated Service Models The Focus Of May mhca National Innovation Incubator, on Tuesday, May 10 in Indianapolis.)
Whether you welcome the growing footprint of mobile apps in the field or not doesn’t matter – mobile technologies will become an increasingly important element in consumer care management. And, as the field moves to pay-for-value reimbursement models, leveraging mobile technology will be essential to financial sustainability. Managers need to come up with a process to sort through the range of options and the variable evidence of efficacy, and develop the hybrid operating models that will soon become “best practice.”
For more, don’t miss The 2016 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute plenary panel on June 8, “What Are The Challenges To Innovation In Serving Complex Consumers? A Town Hall Discussion On Overcoming The Barriers To Change,” featuring OPEN MINDS senior associate Joseph P. Naughton-Travers; Kenneth R. Weingardt, Ph.D., Scientific Director, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies & Professor, Northwestern University; Bruce C. Nisbet, LMSW, DFNAP, President & CEO, Spectrum Human Services & Health Home Partners of WNY, LLC; and Peter O’Neill, Associate Director of Reimbursement and Health Policy, Neuronetics, Inc.