Mobile technology and its importance to patients

We can already see that the future of a significant portion of healthcare delivery will be digital - in prevention, diagnosis, or in managing existing conditions. It will be driven both by growing demands on declining health budgets and by digital-savvy consumer demand.

Monitoring the apps

The first steps are already being made. If you have a condition, or just want to monitor your general health, there's an app for it. And there are a lot of apps around – at the last count, Myhealthapps.net estimated 165,000.

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Downloading a health app is not like downloading Angry Birds. Patients expect more from their digital operating environment than consumers. Will the app be accurate? Who is responsible if the app goes wrong? How will it handle your data? Will the app be upgraded, changed or altered? And perhaps most importantly – who is behind the app, was medical advice sought in its development, and what is its funding mechanism?

Myhealthapps.net is attempting to bring some order to the chaos. It provides a neutral platform for over 450 healthcare apps tried and reviewed by over 650 patient organisations across the world. It has undertaken global surveys seeking to ascertain what patients are looking for from their health app – and what is missing.

The most valued criteria are to understand and help manage their conditions and treatment choices; and to provide practical support, such as care planning. Respondents are also clear about what inhibits them from using health apps more – the sheer confusing number of them available, a lack of information about how relevant they are, which in turn engenders a lack of trust.

Get the apps right, however, and it pays off. A survey by Aviva suggested that 47% of patients would be as happy with a digital consultation as a face-to-face appointment with a GP.

We are still in the early days of digital health but the landscape is evolving very rapidly. In the two years between the launch of myhealthapps.net in 2013 and 2015, of the 450 apps on the site, 58 had been removed from the market, 20 had changed name, many had changed operating platforms and 75 had changed branding and logo – making it even harder for patients, carers and the health-conscious public to find suitable apps.

The digital health ecosystem

This is not sustainable. If digital health is to become more established, patients are going to have to trust their data and their health to a digital provider, and they need more reassurances. These include:

  • Some sort of accreditation by trusted bodies (such as public health systems, patient groups, healthcare professional bodies, or more likely, a mixture of all these stakeholders)
  • More information about the qualifications of app providers
  • Understanding how their data will be used
  • Confidence that the app will have longevity

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face is that the most common model for internet services so far  has been to be free at the point of delivery, and monetised either through advertising or selling on data. That funding mechanism is neither acceptable nor sustainable for sensitive health data. Few patients treat their health data in the same way as their profile on Facebook. In order to meet data security and privacy concers, as well as ensuring app quality, digital health will increasingly have to be paid for directly.

Here is the opportunity for the insurance industry. It has the chance to play a vital role in emerging digital health ecosystems. Most health systems in the world are tightly bound in with insurers. As digital health becomes a reality, insurers have the opportunity to place themselves at the centre of the action. Once ecosystems become established and gain traction, the door will shut behind them.

The 5 pillars of a sustainable healthcare app:

Source: PatientView / myhealthapps.net

About the speaker

Dee O'Sullivan is Director at My Health Apps. She spoke at the "Next Generation Insurance Customer: Bringing it to Life" which took place on 22-23 June 2016 at the Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue.

Summary by Simon Woodward, Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue