There are more than 200 mobile healthcare applications co-branded with healthcare organizations available on the two main online app marketplaces, Google Play and the Apple AppStore, a new research report shows.
“The box we had around this was the hospital's name—it had to be clearly designated as an app from them,” said Brian Dolan, managing editor and co-founder of MobiHealthNews.com, a website that covers the burgeoning mobile health app space. “It was built for them or built by them and it had to be for patients. We wanted this to be about patient engagement.”
The app with the catchiest name of the bunch is Run With DMC, a mobile fitness app that plays on the name of hip-hop pioneers Run-D.M.C. and the apps' sponsor, the Detroit Medical Center. It's a pretty cool app, too, according to Dolan.
“It just looks like an app for tracking runs with a coaching component, and some injuries you might get from running and who you might want to talk to at DMC if that happened,” Dolan said. But there are enough functions to make it stand out in the crowded pack of mobile fitness apps, he said. “It even has shoe tracking,” he said, “so it helps you decide when you want to buy a new pair of shoes.”
One of the highest-tech apps is a 3-D “augmented reality” mobile application by the University of Michigan Health System's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, a patient-engagement app that also honors former Wolverine football player and now Oakland Raider defensive back Charles Woodson, who gave the hospital $2 million for research. The app uses a visitor's own mobile device to have their picture taken with a superimposed image of Woodson.
Because many providers have quietly released their apps, posting them to the app stores without a lot of fanfare or publicity, Dolan sees those as pilot projects, a virtual putting of their sponsors' toes in the mobile app/patient-engagement waters.
Of the 205 apps Dolan identified, 17% are from children's hospitals, many providing parents of sick children extra help in understanding their medical conditions and procedures. About 30% of the apps are for scheduling visits or booking appointments.
Dolan said he looked for the names of hired-gun developers and included them in his research report, where available. Some of the developers' names were listed, some weren't, but “I'd say very few of these are being built in-house,” he said.
The market is still sorting itself out on whether providers should brand applications in their own name or offer commercial applications that aggregate information across multiple providers' health IT systems.
“The idea is their hospital's brand is something people are going to search for,” Dolan said. But commercial, brand-name apps like ZocDoc and Aetna's iTriage that can tap multiple providers' systems, and “tethered” extensions of EHR vendors' products, such as Epic Systems' MyChart, often offer more features than the average hospital-branded app, Dolan said.
The commercial apps “very clearly see that hospital-branded apps are their main competition,” Dolan said. They say, “This notion that you're going to download every app your providers are building is a bad strategy, you ought to go with an aggregator.”
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn