mHealth Summit 2014: App developers must make things easy for providers

To ensure high provider engagement in the use of mobile health technologies, developers must keep their concepts simple and straightforward, according to Shivdev Rao, a physician advisor in residence at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Technology Development Center.

Rao, part of a discussion panel focusing on engaging providers in mHealth at this week's mHealth Summit near the District of Columbia, said that all too often, technology developers are shooting for the stars rather than searching for low-hanging fruit.

"Work on building things people want solutions for," Rao urged developers. "In my experience at an innovation center, sometimes you really want to go build spaceships instead of faster horses."

Rao said he and his colleagues at UPMC work on creating tools, keeping in mind what providers' motivations already are, rather than trying to motivate them to do something different. Making things easy, he said, is where he's seen the most traction, although doing so, he warned, is no walk in the park.

"That's a difficult thing to do in healthcare IT with all of the regulations and overhead," Rao said. "It's really hard to make things easy."

Brock Morris, CIO at Pediatric Associates in Bellvue, Washington, agreed, calling integration with physician workflow vital for new tools. In his experience, there is a breakdown in communication between application developers and physicians, which has led to, in particular, a lack of pediatric-specific tools.

"It's almost like we need an online dating site to put together those developing applications and those [providers] willing to engage," Morris said. "What we have to get away from is this focus on 'where the money is, that's where we're going to develop.' We end up not having any validated tools for pediatrics."

Rao added that developers would be wise to work toward creating solutions that fit into an ecosystem.

"We're inundated with solutions for every single disease," he said. "When those solutions can actually start connecting with each other and ... forming something that integrates into clinical workflow, that's when we're going to have something really powerful."