The evidence is overwhelming. Mobile health is here. If you've decided to launch a smartphone app at your hospital, should you buy or build? If you choose an outside vendor, how should you evaluate them? For many, navigating the mobile space can seem daunting. By focusing on a few key principles, you will be able to make the right decision for your hospital.
Buy vs. Build
Should you use internal IT or use outside experts to build your mobile app? Answering these three questions will help you decide:
1. How many smartphone apps has your internal team produced?
If the answer is one or more, move to question 2. If the answer is zero, move to the vendor evaluation section.
2. How do your internally-produced applications compare to the professionally-produced applications offered by peer institutions?
Compare the look-and-feel and feature set of your internally-produced applications to those offered by hospitals of a similar size and scope.
3. How fast can your internal IT department move?
If you are not confident that your IT department can launch an app in the app store within 3-6 months, move on to the next section.
If you've decided that outside expertise is the way to go, these questions will help you narrow down your vendor list:
1. Does the vendor have healthcare expertise?
There are many vendors that offer mobile app development services across a wide range of industries. Why is it important to select a vendor focused on healthcare? The first version of the application will likely offer you a baseline set of functionality, but if the vendor does not have a specific healthcare focus, you may be stuck with a 1.0 version of the app that doesn't evolve over time. Which brings us to point # 2 ...
2. Does the vendor offer ongoing support and updates?
There are two things to look out for here. The first is to determine if the vendor not only offers a support SLA, but also is committed to keeping the app updated to accommodate new releases from Apple and Android. The second is to determine if the vendor has a platform that allows YOU to make on-the-fly changes to the application without having to resubmit to the app store.
3. Are you buying a branded app or a just a listing in someone else's app?
If your goal is to engage with your patients, you should have your own branded app. Having your hospital listed in another vendor's app -- such as those that list ER wait times for your area -- does not allow for true patient engagement. Consider the difference between your hospital's website and a yellow pages listing. The yellow pages listing may or may not provide value, but it doesn't take away the need for a website. The same is true with mobile listings vs. a mobile app.
4. Does the app offer ways for patients to manage their health?
Some apps are pure information resources, which is great; however, the most successful apps are those that offer interactive tools for tracking medications, labs, and other health metrics. These are the features that will keep your patients coming back to your app. They are also a means of creating an ongoing connection between patients and providers.
5. Can the app integrate with your EHR?
This option is important if you want to use your mobile app as a way for patients to retrieve their health records. A "mobile PHR" or a "mobile patient portal" offers convenience for patients and enables providers to prepare for Meaningful Use Stage 2.
However you decide to develop a smartphone app for your hospital, the time to get started is now. Delaying the decision through endless stakeholder meetings may be costing you more than you know - especially if your competitors are moving aggressively into the mobile space. The key is to find a development solution that not only enables you to launch quickly with a solid smartphone app, but also ensures that your app will grow and improve over time.