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Who Owns Your Healthcare App?

Consumer-based health information apps stand a better chance of continued use after individuals change jobs or insurers.

Today's digital age is full of direct to consumer capabilities, but member/patient engagement continues to be a dilemma.

Reportedly, there are currently more than 165,000 health and wellness related apps on iOS alone, yet the top 10 apps have more downloads than all the others combined.

Even with so many options available, companies continue to socialize new wellness programs for employees with goals of losing weight, increasing steps or simply disrupting time spent behind a desk. Despite these initiatives being consistently introduced, studies show that it takes only six months for their utilization to diminish, along with the relevance of their related wearable devices. This leads to the question of who should "own" healthcare apps - employers, insurers or patients - or is there more to the story to achieve better results?

Employers are interested in increasing productivity, promoting work/life balance, and achieving higher employee retention by offering superior benefits than competitors.

Healthcare insurance companies have an upper hand in this discussion since they are driving toward the consumerization of healthcare with a more patient-centric, "top-of-wallet" approach to engaging users.

Meanwhile, patients want to eliminate redundancies by reducing the number of places they have to enter personal information.

To modify behavior, there must be intrinsic motivation, or enough extrinsic motivation to engage with health or combat a chronic condition. Regardless, something must inspire the consumer to have a "readiness to change."

So, the question remains, who should own the app? The employer, the healthcare insurer or individual users/patients? How do we bridge the gap to effectively reach consumers? 

SEE ALSO: Next Level Mobility in Healthcare

mobile health appsEmployers' Goal:

Ensure employees positively respond to a wellness app

Fewer sick days, increased productivity and a more positive work outlook are documented benefits of location-based employee wellness programs. However, with historically low employee loyalty and more than half the population traveling or telecommuting, how can these benefits be achieved with a successful wellness app?

Creating an employer app to be inclusively used for as much as possible, from time reporting and paycheck reviews to social, employee-only communities, helps employees receive greater benefits from using a single employer app. An inclusive community makes the wellness program one of several benefits to an employer app instead of being the sole reason for visiting, increasing the stickiness factor to keep employees coming back.

In addition, in-house clinics create the most successful results for employee wellness engagement, but for remote workers, email and conference calls are the primary communication needs. This is when telehealth can become a positive influencing factor, allowing for a virtual clinic to support those employees who are not onsite. Though local employees might be slow to adopt such technology when they have an onsite clinic, this high-touch option will have a higher acceptance rate with remote workers, also shifting from reactive treatment to proactive advice.

Healthcare Insurers' Goal:

Create meaningful interactions to increase likelihood of long-term success

Employees care greatly about the financial aspect of healthcare. Creating a single app with benefits, coverage notices and prescription information that also has the ability to communicate directly with a care manager who has access to patient care and HSA information provides a one stop shop for the user and a more satisfying user experience. A full service app would not only enable the user to interact across platforms to identify treatment options, but also facilitate scheduling doctor's visits, complete paperwork and order medications and products to be sent directly to their home.

Also, using the app's data, insurers can develop communities that bring people with similar needs, pains and treatment patterns together, helping connect and engage users. Big pharmaceutical companies do this with medication adherence programs, why not insurers? Wellness programs are more likely to succeed when users can share their experience and goals with others in a similar situation. The insurer would also have the ability to facilitate the creation and execution of a treatment plan for each group, whether the goal is wellness or simply information exchange. This generates relevance and enjoyment for users, again increasing the app's stickiness.

Patients Goal:

Develop a centralized app that builds lasting relationships

Patients don't enjoy answering the same questions repetitively for healthcare providers, hospitals and other related organizations. However, despite the inconvenience, it is essential to provide accurate information to receive the best care.

Controlling your own medical information at your fingertips, with the ability to share that information, can remove the hassle of having to request the information. Since the consumer owns and tracks everything themselves, individuals would be empowered to make better choices about their health. Given privacy and security, this is a sensitive area, yet having your family history and the answer to every question clinicians ask would ease patient intake effort, especially if it can be sent electronically from the patient app to the doctor's medical records.

So, Who Should "Own the App?"

Who should own the app becomes clearer when considering how to add the most value to the most important stakeholders - the users/patients.

Engagement is key, no matter who owns the app. There must be a convenient way to reach consumers that makes them want to have healthcare access at any time. Fewer barriers to consuming and using the information will create a value that encourages patients to come back repeatedly.

Healthcare insurers could create healthcare programs for employers including real-time feeds of meaningful benefit information they can provide to their employees via an application of their choice. Alternatively, the information could be made directly available to employees who choose the app they want to use to achieve the specific health-related goal. However, this is probably a two-phase approach, similar to travel and leisure. First there were hotel and airline apps, then portals like Expedia, followed by a portal for the ecosystem like Kayak that provides an all-inclusive, analytics driven experience. Healthcare and members/patients will likely follow a similar path, with insurance company apps expanding to offer more information, integrating with in-network providers for telehealth, and eventually having enough open data feeds for a patient app to act as the epicenter.

An app owned by the consumer has the benefit of staying regardless of employment status or current health insurance. This would be even more beneficial if the app automatically supports multiple insurances to benefit an aging population, with payers such as Medicare being the primary insurance for patients.

A critical component is how to create an end state that functions for all parties. Insurers currently have the most to gain from shifting to a more customer-friendly approach, similar to retail and banking disruptors that encourage long-term engagement to help cross-sell. Care managers from insurers are also in a unique position to engage, educate and develop meaningful relationships to facilitate acute illnesses, manage chronic care and promote healthy lifestyles.

In the end, "who owns the app" is not the most important question. Transforming the value that healthcare insurance companies and employers provide to enable customers to take charge of their own health is crucial for wellness success.

Adam Nelson leads the Healthcare and Life Sciences Solution Offerings and Business Consulting group at NTT DATA Americas.

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