In-Depth: Apps hospitals create for their patients

By Brian Dolan

Based on an exhaustive search of Apple’s AppStore and the Google Play store in September 2013, MobiHealthNews found 205 apps that were “hospital-branded” and intended for use by consumers or patients. By that we mean simply that the hospital has put its name on these apps. For this special MobiHealthNews In-Depth we are publicly sharing for the first time the topline findings from our report. If you'd like to learn more about the history of mobile initiatives at US hospitals or would like access to the entire list of 205 hospital-branded apps for patients -- head over to our research store to get your copy today.

This week MobiHealthNews also did a quick search for new hospital-branded apps for patients that have launched since our report was published six months ago. We found 16 new apps and have included a roundup of those apps below. In the immediate section below are MobiHealthNews’ topline findings and metrics based on our analysis of the 205 hospital-branded patient apps we found as of last September.

SPRIGGY17 percent from children’s hospitals: Of the 205 hospital-branded smartphone apps that MobiHealthNews found in the Apple AppStore and Google Play store, 34 were from children’s hospitals. Smartphones, tablets, and most new consumer technology in general is often first adopted by younger generations, which may be one reason for the significant cohort of children’s hospitals with branded apps. Another might be that parents of sick children are typically thought to be very engaged patient advocates and eager to adopt tools like these. Children’s hospitals are also typically more likely to experiment with patient engagement initiatives since their patients are younger and thought to be in need of extra help in understanding their medical condition and procedures. All of these reasons and more help explain why 17 percent of hospital branded apps come from children’s hospitals.

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30 percent include ER appointment booking: While the pitch for checking in on wait times at the emergency room has long been a mainstay of healthcare apps, appointment booking is relatively new. About 30 percent of hospital-branded apps allow users to schedule an ER visit or book an appointment with a provider. The vast majority, however, are ER schedulers. InQuicker is one such company that provides a scheduling platform that targets hospitals. The company includes a customized hospital-branded app as part of its higher end app development packages. MobiHealthNews found that 61 out of 205 hospital-branded apps offer some kind of appointment booking.

El Camino Hospital Health1 percent are paid apps: Almost every hospital-branded app is free to download and use. MobiHealthNews only found three hospital-branded apps that cost money to download, and they were wellness tracking tools from the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic that help users manage stress and anxiety or learn how to meditate. It is fair to say that no hospital charges money for its flagship patient engagement app – neither Mayo Clinic nor Cleveland Clinic charge patients to download their Patient or Today apps, respectively.

3 percent include fitness trackers or fitness-related features: MobiHealthNews was surprised to find that seven hospital-branded apps include some kind of fitness-related component. Yes, despite the thousands of fitness-focused smartphone apps available in app stores today, hospitals are developing them, too. The most creatively named hospital-branded fitness app comes from the Detroit Medical Center (DMC), which offers Run with DMC, a running tracker app that had to be named with a tip of the cap to ‘80s hip hop group Run-D.M.C. Still, very few of the hospital apps MobiHealthNews found focused on fitness. Only 3 percent of hospital-branded apps today have a fitness feature.

61 percent are available for both Android and iOS: Based on the way most healthcare, fitness, and medical apps launch these days, it has long seemed apparent that most developers launch through Apple’s AppStore, and might create an Android app within a few weeks or months, if ever. MobiHealthNews’ research into hospital apps has found that while there are two hospital-branded Android apps that you can’t get in Apple’s AppStore, there are 50 iOS apps from hospitals that don’t have an Android version. The two Android-only apps come from Duncan Regional Hospital and Physicians Regional Healthcare. The majority, 153 hospital apps, or about 61 percent of them, are available for both iPhone and Android users.

3 percent boast some kind of EHR access: Perhaps the most important feature that a patient-facing, hospital branded smartphone app might have is the ability to access information in that patient’s electronic health record. While many more apps offer health tracking features for things like medications, allergies, or even when the user’s next appointment is – this self-entered data is different from EHR access. Very few hospital branded smartphone apps advertise this ability, which is the core offering of many patient-facing apps from EHR providers, like Epic’s MyChart app. Only 6 hospital-branded apps, or 3 percent of the 205 apps offered by US hospitals, promise patients some kind of access to their health records.