You can lead a health care consumer to your mobile app, but you can’t make them use it, suggests a new report from consulting firm Accenture. It found, in a survey of 100 large U.S. hospitals, that just 2 percent of their patients are using hospital-provided mobile apps, even though two-thirds of the hospitals made them available.
The problem, Accenture said, was that the hospitals largely failed to provide consumers with the kinds of functions they want most. For consumers, those are access to medical records, the ability to make appointments, and an option to request prescription refills. Just 11 percent of the surveyed hospitals offered those functionalities.
This failure to engage the consumer is a wake-up call for any kind of health care organization seeking to interact with patients in a meaningful way, whether they are hospitals, health plans or an independent “digital disruptor” such as ZocDoc. The potential is certainly there. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults now owns a web-enabled smartphone or other wireless device, and 32% of them downloaded at least one health or fitness app onto it, according to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which predicts that strategizing around mobile will be a major health industry trend in 2016.
In order to reach consumers, providers and health plans will have to stand out in an extremely crowded field – in September 2015 IMS Health said it counted 165,000 mobile health apps in the Android and iPhone stores.
Intimidating to be sure, but worth the effort to get it right, particularly for health plans, whose members are more satisfied if their insurer provides tools that help them use their coverage, according to a J.D. Power survey last year. The survey found that satisfaction was significantly higher among members who contacted their plan using a mobile app than among those who hadn’t; not surprisingly, the members who tended to keep in touch with their health plan via text or mobile app tended to be under 40.
The nation’s major insurers have been developing consumer apps at varying rates; an industry benchmarking report from consulting firm Research2Guidance characterizes health plan mobile strategies as relatively behind the curve, noting that two-thirds of health plan apps had fewer than 100,000 downloads each.
The report cites Aetna for both the most successful health plan app – iTriage, which has had more than 14 million downloads – and one of the most highly publicized failures, its Carepass, which was meant to aggregate consumer use of fitness and nutrition apps in one place. As it turned out, the app was ahead of the consumer, and it didn’t get enough participation to be worthwhile. Still, Aetna continues to innovate, having published 28 different apps, most recently rolling out an out-of-pocket costs estimator tool.
Insurer strategies include apps that help consumers understand and use their health plan, as well as tools to help them improve their health. Apps could be built in-house, acquired through the purchase of a development firm, or through partnerships with tech companies. For instance, Humana has a deal with Kurbo to make its mobile health coaching and weight loss program for children available to employers.
Another strategy is to offer coverage of a particular mobile app that improves care and reduces cost, such as Heal, which helps people request a doctor visit. Anthem Blue Cross of California is now subsidizing use of Heal for many of its PPO plan members.
The continuing efforts by both health plans and providers to find mobile tools that consumers will like and use isn’t just a matter of keeping current customers happy – falling behind in the medical app race risks losing patients and members, the Accenture report warned. The firm said its research shows that about 7% of patients have switched health care providers because of a poor customer experience, and that level of consumer switching could cost each hospital in its study more than $100 million in annual revenue. “Today’s consumers place more expectations on their providers to interact digitally, driven by the customer experiences they have had with services in other industries,” the report said. “And most providers are letting them down.”
If you have a mobile health app as a product, or some experience with hospital-provided mobile health apps and want to chat more about it email us or visit our social media profiles, we look forward to your feedback.