The increasing use of consumer mobile apps has prompted EHR vendors to partner with healthcare app developers, or create their own, as they move into population health management.
EHR vendor Cerner Corp. recently inked an agreement with cloud-based mobile app developer Livongo Health to integrate systems to help diabetic patients better attain optimal glycemic control and avoid complications. Per the terms of the deal, Cerner will sell Livongo’s app to its existing customers and provide it to its 16,000-strong workforce.
"This is the right program at the right time to empower our clients and their patients with the real-time information they need to help effectively manage and improve their health," said Zane Burke, President of Cerner, in a recent press release. "It fits perfectly with our vision for population health, which is to provide clarity to millions of data points in an actionable and timely way to improve health and care outcomes across the population."
Cerner has also recently signed an accord with Mobile Doctors (MD 24-7) in Dubai to provide subscribers of their mobile application called 'Hello Doctor' with access to their electronic health record (EHR), schedule appointments, and contact a physician 24 hours a day for consultations, triage, and care coordination.
Mobile Apps + EHR
The partnerships are the latest examples of how EHR/EMR suppliers are changing their traditionally protective stance over their proprietary systems to maintain market share. The traditional model of EHR systems collecting health data only during acute episodic care and infrequent physician visits have not served the needs of patients and doctors well. In between visits and hospitalizations, patients are increasingly turning to consumer-facing health and wellness apps easily accessible via their smartphones to manage their fitness and health.
This explosion of mobile health apps has prompted EHR vendors to partner with app developers as they move into population health management.
Of these partnerships, perhaps none has been more high-profile than Apple’s HealthKit — a platform to collect and share physiologic and fitness data from different third-party apps and devices, and link them to electronic health records. During the launch of their platform, Apple said it is partnering with EHR giant Epic Systems (along with other vendors like Allscripts, Cerner and Athenahealth) to merge disparate health data sources in order to get a more complete picture of patients’ health.
“Apple’s HealthKit has tremendous potential to help close the gap between consumer collected data and data collected in traditional healthcare settings,” Epic Systems President Carl Dvorak told VentureBeat. “The Epic customer community, which provides care to over 170 million patients a year, will be able to use HealthKit through Epic’s MyChart application—the most used patient portal in the U.S.”
Integration Leads to Better Outcomes
Ochsner Health System in Louisiana recently became the first hospital system to integrate their Epic MyChart EHR with HealthKit. Ochsner gave patients with heart failure wireless scales that transmit daily weight values to the app. If their weight increases dramatically — a sign of fluid excess — then Ochsner’s care providers contact the patient to schedule a nurse home visit, place a call from a pharmacist to adjust medications, or have them come in for a check-up. Ochsner’s chief clinical transformation officer Robert Milani, MD said that the program has resulted in a 40% drop in readmissions, according to a Healthcare IT News article.
Apple is also collaborating with the prestigious Mayo Clinic — which has a host of existing mobile apps — in offering consumers advisory content and health recommendations based on user input on their mobile phones. This could be especially useful in filling the healthcare gap for patients with chronic illnesses, like diabetes or heart failure.
“For a subspecialty like cardiac, we're monitored on what our 30-day readmission rates are,” Dr. John Wald, medical director for marketing and public affairs, Mayo Clinic, said in an Information Week report. “[This gives us] the ability to have the patient monitored at home with a variety of devices and move the information into the data aggregator, HealthKit. Our doctors can pull the vital numbers they need into the electronic medical record as a permanent catalog, and intervene if they need to. We can keep patients at home or pull them back into the hospital if we need to interact with them sooner.”
Apple is also in the process of implementing similar programs with other prestigious partners, including Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai. Apple’s rivals—Google and Samsung—have also launched similar products and services as the tech industry enters the healthcare space.
The merger of clinical EHR systems with mHealth apps has already yielded promising results for patient care, especially for those with chronic conditions. As with any endeavor in healthcare, privacy and security issues need to be worked out. But, as Sue Montgomery, RN pointed out in a recent column, a paradigm shift in healthcare partnerships is exactly what’s needed to help make the healthcare system work better for patients and providers.
Half a billion people will be using mobile health apps by 2015. That’s a lot of health data that could be far more useful for patient monitoring and diagnostics if integrated with electronic health records. Even if they are not partnering with app developers, more EHR vendors are creating mobile versions of their systems.
“Gone will be the days when health data and physician notes are siloed in the records of doctors' offices and labs,” Stephanie Tilenius, founder and CEO of Vida, said in a recent nuviun article. “Consumers will see their health data in full transparency on their mobile devices—the instant your blood work is analyzed, for example, it will show up on your smartphone with recommendations.”
Jof Enriquez is a registered nurse, medical writer and healthcare journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @jofenriq.