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EHR Data Viewing Tops List of Most Common Healthcare App Uses

A recent survey on healthcare apps found that EHR data viewing remains the most common use case with interest growing in more advanced uses.

Healthcare apps support EHR data use

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- Findings from a SMART Health IT study of healthcare application trends and provider attitudes show increased app use among providers although the use cases are basic with the most common being the ability to view patient data contained in EHR technology.

“Use of apps in healthcare is still early,” the SMART Health IT report states. “Around half of healthcare organizations do not formally use apps at the point-of-care today, though individual clinicians often make use of them. Additionally, the current app landscape primarily consists of basic apps that allow data in the EHR to be viewed. Few organizations are live with more advanced use cases today.”

Substitutable Medical Applications, Reusable Technology (SMART) Health IT Project is an offshoot of Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program and the Harvard Medical School Department for Biomedical Informatics. The project has led to the development of an open, standards-based technology platform using the SMART standard that third-parties developers can use to create apps for EHR systems and data warehouses support this health IT standard.

Earlier this week HIMSS17, SMART Health IT joined the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in a demonstration of its SMART App Gallery, an ecosystem for sharing apps using HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). The project is itself a recipient of ONC funding to create health IT infrastructure that support clinical health IT apps. SMART itself is a health IT standard built on FHIR.

Using ONC funding, the SMART Health IT team recently commissioned KLAS to survey healthcare organization leaders about their healthcare app uses, preferences, and concerns. The report comprises four principal takeaways.

First, the report found nearly half of surveyed health organizations (51%) utilize apps at the point of care, suggesting apps have become crucial tools in delivering efficient patient care.  Behind the most common use case of EHR data viewing were diagnostic tools, reference tools, and patient engagement. As the authors of the report note, athenahealth, Cerner, and Epic Systems are the main providers of these tools.

Less common among respondents was the process of inputting clinical data into a healthcare app outside of the EHR system, with 43 percent answering in the affirmative.

In terms of what providers prefer when selecting an app, surveyed industry leaders stated usability is the number one factor they look for when considering purchasing an app, followed by cost, clinical impact, and ability to integrate with existing systems. 

“In most cases, providers are not inputting clinical data into healthcare apps, although a few organizations have taken this step. Those who are inputting clinical data find that it streamlines their ability to initially asses a patient. Other providers are hoping to input clinical data into currently available apps in the future as their healthcare app strategy evolves and becomes more formalized,” the report states.

As for top areas for development, surveyed providers reported they would like to see apps developed around patient engagement. The second most sought-after kind of application interviewed providers voiced interest in seeing were apps specializing in EHR data visualization, followed by diagnostic tools and clinical decision support tools. 

When asked how providers would prefer to evaluate new and developing apps available for purchase, clinicians agreed pilot programs and demos were the most beneficial to getting an idea of the effectiveness and usability of an app. Peer review, web content, and video demonstrations were also cited as offering an indication of how well apps aligned with provider interests. 

“Looking forward, providers would like to purchase or develop patient engagement apps to help monitor patient health, provide patient education, and allow patients to access records and results with ease. Monitoring apps particularly stand out as an area in which providers would like to see development,” the authors add.

When evaluating and selecting apps, respondents listed usability, cost, clinical impact, integration, and functionality as the top five criteria for a potential app purchases.

“Since one of the primary reasons apps are used in the first place is to save time and improve efficiency, most providers will not consider apps with low usability that may not be adopted by clinicians or that may require additional training,” the report reads.

While the healthcare industry is steadfast in its course toward adopting and integrating new apps into their organizations, several concerns still remain when choosing whether or not to get on board with a new technology. 

The biggest concern surveyed providers held regarding adopting apps surrounded privacy and security, followed by app credibility, maintenance requirements, and integration with existing systems. 

The findings from the SMART Health IT and KLAS come at a crucial moment as healthcare associations such as CommonWell Health Alliance set to develop up to 14 new application programming interfaces (APIs) for its health data exchange platform. 

EHR technology developers including Cerner and PatientPing signed on to develop new APIs for the over 9,800 provider sites presently part of the CommonWell network. CommonWell's APIs will be especially useful for individuals concerned with disability coverage, organizations looking to invest in more effective care coordination, and communities interested in initiating public health programs. 

With app development on the rise, this litmus test of providers' primary needs and concerns when deciding which apps are best suited for their organization could guide the health industry toward more focused, efficient app development and implementation. 

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