White House mobile initiative is Feds' way of playing catch up

Anybody out there still dragging their feet on developing a mobile strategy? Well, it's officially time to get on the stick.

The White House waded into the mHealth fray this week, ordering all government agencies to push harder to mobilize their services and data, with a report, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, and a written statement from President Obama.

And it's only logical that federal regulators will be looking for industry to keep up. Ed Marx, CIO of Dallas-based Texas Health Resources, tells FierceMobileHealthcare that many hospitals are out in front of government efforts. The White House announcement looks more to him, and some others, like the administration playing "catch-up" rather than truly pushing a leading edge initiative. 

"The Fed is responding late to the consumerization of technology and specifically the proliferation of mobile," Marx says. "Many of us in healthcare have already either been pushed this way or have led the way. So I am not sure healthcare has to pick up the pace because of the Fed. Rather, we should accelerate because it is the present and future," of the healthcare industry."

Still, there are some indications that the 12-month initiative could push things forward in the mobile health environment. The press conference by federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and chief technology officer Todd Park, and Obama's statement, didn't include a great deal of healthcare-specific detail, but it did indicate two areas where the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services might focus first: 

The Blue Button initiative for all patients: One of five projects that Park announced during the Obama press conference, the Blue Button project is a direct hit for healthcare. It has been under development by the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies for nearly two years, and Park is instructing federal agencies to create a blue-button app for all patients.

Put simply, a Blue Button app provides a single-touch tile or button that patients can use to download their electronic medical records to a mobile device, or into a personal health record. I can only imagine it's an exciting concept for clinicians caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients, whose records can be fragmented and difficult to coordinate during a short in-office visit.

Comparative data for patients: Park mentioned that the initiative hopefully would motivate private vendors to create apps that help "Americans find the best doctor for their family." This could mean some development of Health Care Compare data, possibly, with some location services thrown in. Again, a host of physician-choice apps are available on the market today, so it will be interesting to see if the fed develops its own, or connects with an industry partner.

It will take some time for the healthcare industry to suss out the effects of government mobile initiatives. But I can see potential for smartphone-enabled billing apps for Medicare and Medicaid, apps to allow clinicians to access and analyze government health data on the fly, and more. - Sara