Are mobile apps really valuable to providers, patients?

It seems like every week a hospital proudly unveils a new mobile app. But before you go and hire a mobile developer, ask yourself: Will a mobile app provide real value to users and will it advance your hospital's marketing and/or clinical objectives?

It's not enough to simply build a mobile app; people need to use it. It's important to keep in mind that while there are thousands of iPhone apps currently available, only 5 percentare still used one month after downloading.

Will your hospital's app provide enough useful information so that it will be one that people return to on a regular basis?


I took a look at some recently introduced hospital mobile apps and found that they seem to fall into three categories:

  • Marketing apps: These apps are the most common and provide information like ER wait times, maps and directions, find a physician, and frequently called numbers. Hospitals across the country are offering these types of apps, including Frye Regional Medical Center in North Carolina, St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, and Des Peres Hospital in St. Louis, Mo. While these apps may provide some other features, they're basically a marketing tool to help keep the hospital top-of-mind.
  • Internal apps: These apps are designed to meet a hospital's internal needs. For example, Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey created an app that allows physicians to access clinical laboratory results on their smartphones.Palomar Pomerado Health introduced an app that provides physicians immediate access to a patient’s complete health record, from a variety of different sources spanning organizational boundaries. I'd love to see hospitals create apps to improve hand washing compliance, enhance customer service, or translate medical jargon into terms non-medical people can understand.
  • Apps with real functionality: I'm always excited to see hospital apps designed with their patients' needs in mind. For example, Southcoast Hospitals Group's iPhone app helps patients and their families keep track of their medications, find a physician, and stay connected with news and events. Akron Children's Hospital's Care4Kids app provides general health and hospital information, but also lets parents store their family's medical history, such as insurance and provider information, medications, allergies and emergency contacts. DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan developed an app that answers common pediatric health-related questions and provides a child safety checklist.

It's worth noting that Mayo Clinic formed a partnership with smartphone application developer DoApps to create health applications, including a suite of custom apps built for clinics and hospitals and their patients. This makes a lot of sense, since healthcare is regional and hospitals can customize apps to meet their regional needs.

Still, hospital execs must remember the old adage: Act in haste, repent at leisure. So before you hire a developer, think carefully about the app's function and its value to users.

Some other things to keep in mind:

It's better to do your homework now, than build an app that gathers dust later.

Jenn Riggle is an associate vice president and social media leader of the Health Practice at CRT/tanaka. She has 20 years of public relations experience in issues such as health care marketing and public relations, social media in health care, national media relations and strategic communications planning. She regularly engages in social media, both on Twitter (@riggrl) and frequently blogs about social media and health care issues for The Buzz Bin, a PR and marketing blog.