It has been an interesting few months for mobile health and patient engagement, as both Apple and Google announced plans to get into (or in Google’s case, back into) the consumer health market. It is still very early and there are many details that have yet to be rolled out, but essentially the companies want to act as hubs that aggregate and centralize the health and wellness data that their respective devices are collecting (and will be increasingly collecting in the future).
So will this be the catalyst to the long-awaited patient engagement revolution? Or just another example of hype and buzz that ultimately goes nowhere? Here are some of our initial thoughts and questions:
How will data be reconciled and used? As many providers already well know, aggregating data is only the first step. The value comes by providing patients with information that drives changes in behavior. How will these platforms reconcile data from disparate sources, especially if multiple applications are providing similar data — but with different values? Perhaps more importantly, will any of the platforms be able to do anything with the aggregated data other than to just display it?
How much “work” will be required by the patient? If configuring permissions, identifying and selecting data sources, and manually reconciling data becomes too cumbersome, many consumers will quickly lose interest.
Will there be any interoperability at all between platforms? With the surge in popularity of tablets, it is not inconceivable that a consumer will have both an Apple and an Android (Google) device. What happens if they record their blood pressure with an app on their iPad and want to see changes compared to how many miles they’ve run in the last few months (which is collected by an app from their Android phone)? Or put another way, will patients find completing platforms be confusing, frustrating, or a non-issue?
What kind of data do patients actually care about? This is the biggest question of all. To date, efforts to empower patients with mobile and online access to their medical information have been largely unsuccessful. People may log in to a patient portal out of curiosity or to get the answer to a specific question, but there is no evidence that access to clinical information is currently driving widespread changes in behavior.
On the flip side though, one area that definitely is heating up is the wearable / fitness / health monitoring device market. Will this be where most developers focus initially? If efforts to aggregate wellness and fitness data on mobile devices are a hit with consumers, will that trigger more interest in access to clinical information?
The Bottom Line
What do the recent announcements from Google and Apple mean for hospitals and health systems – and the industry as a whole? Long term, there is certainly significant potential, provided that developers are able to overcome the long standing barrier of consumers not being interested in their clinical information. In the near term, the impact will likely be limited though (and probably largely focused on wellness and fitness data), especially as the market shakes out. Of course, there is always the possibility that someone will create a consumer health app on one of these platforms that comes out of nowhere and changes everything. Either way, this market is definitely worth keeping a close eye on, and it will certainly be an interesting summer and fall as these platforms are rolled out and the first apps become available!