Could WebMD and Avado come close to the perfect mHealth app combo?

WebMD's acquisition of the patient engagement platform Avado means that a mobile healthcare app could finally fulfill three of the four ingredients for success, a healthcare consultant contends in a blog post on HL7 Standards.

To be successful, digital patient engagement must allow for communication among patients, providers and other patients and be able to continuously access and incorporate outside data in a meaningful way, writes Leonard Kish, principal at VivaPhi, a business consultant firm. Mobile health apps also must engender trust on how data will be used and include incentives for continued use.

It's rare for startup mHealth companies to have more than one or two of the four components, he says. But WebMD has "reach, trust and communications ability," and already has more than 20 million mHealth downloads, Kish writes. Avado has a patient-physician communication platform that works with apps and supports BlueButton and direct messaging. It could potentially connect patient and physician communities in a single communications platform, he writes.

"Done right, this could be a tipping point for BlueButton if Avado and WebMD can really make it valuable in a workflow," he writes. "Data is only the starting point to decisions and action, but it's also the foundation. Meanwhile, all the content from WebMD and Medscape could work to provide more meaning and context to communications."

A study from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics recently found that "the vast majority of available apps has limited functionality or evidence of value in advancing healthcare provision and outcomes," FierceMobileHealthcare reports. 

Of the 43,000-plus health-related apps available on the Apple iTunes app store, only 16,275 are directly related to patient health and treatment, the report found. Few address the serious needs of patients 65 and older with multiple chronic diseases. Most are information-only.

Meanwhile, WebMD Health and the 19 other most popular health, wellness and fitness apps are actively sharing user data with as many as 70 third-party companies, primarily advertising and analytics companies, according to a blog post from web analytics and privacy group Evidon. That could create a barrier to the "trust" prong cited by Kish.

As for the WebMD-Avado marriage, the strategy to start by enabling transactions and build to a point where physicians prescribe and embed apps is sound, Kish writes.

"If they can find trusted, effective and addictive apps focused on the user experience, and prove the efficacy," he writes, "they'll have something."

For more information:
- read Kish's post
- here's the IMS Health announcement
- see the Evidon post