Partners HealthCare app to help health startups better understand patient, provider needs

By Aditi Pai
08:51 am
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Dr. Joseph Kvedar Dr. Joseph Kvedar

Recently quite a few big name companies, including Apple, Samsung, and Google, have launched digital health-focused products and services. While this entry into the digital health space has sparked a lot of enthusiasm, or even exuberance, from the community, Center for Connected Health Director Joseph Kvedar points out that it may be irrational.

When Kvedar spoke at the mHealth Summit in Washington DC, he quoted essayist George Santayana, who once said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

"So let’s think, how is HealthKit going to be different than Google Health, the place Google offered us to put our health information on the web and nobody really used it," Kvedar said. "Or Samsung’s in its third generation of their mHealth app. Not much adoption going on there. And Aetna, who made a big splash at this very meeting a few years back to announce CarePass, put it out of business in August because there wasn’t much activity there. People are now waiting for the smartwatch and maybe that’s going to solve the problem? But we’ll see."

Although Kvedar is critical of the space, his organization, the Center for Connected Health, which is a division of Partners HealthCare in Boston, is taking some steps to answer these questions. The center announced a research tool today, called cHealth Compass, that aims to help device manufacturers, startups, and investors understand what consumers want from and how they want to use digital health technologies. 

The cHealth Compass program, which is led by Kamal Jethwani, the Center's corporate manager for research and innovation, is a mobile offering that will develop customized surveys for a panel of US adult healthcare consumers, patients, caregivers, and other healthcare professionals. Surveys, sent to participants monthly, will explore how different factors influence health behaviors, severity of medical conditions, lifestyle change, and technology adoption.

On behalf of digital health device and service providers, the Center will also invite those in its panel to participate in various studies about particular products. Based on the company's objectives, participants could be asked to focus group discussions, one-on-one interviews, or in-person usability testing and feedback.

One issue that may be explored further with the cHealth Compass service is how best to engage patients and consumers with healthcare professionals over mobile devices.

"When people think about mobile, this is what they think about -- companies like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, where you go from nothing, a couple of kids, to $8 to $10 billion in valuation in a couple of years," Kvedar said during his keynote talk at the event this week. "Can we do that in healthcare, too? Well, I don’t think it’s that easy. This strategy of finding something deeply personal like communicating or sharing photos or what have you and letting it go viral — it’s not as simple as that. Typical app strategy here probably isn’t going to help us in healthcare."

In a statement, Kvedar pointed out that the Center for Connected Health has a unique advantage, operating within the Partners HealthCare network, which provides them with access to the large healthcare system's many providers and patients. And, at the event, Kvedar added that it's a critical time for companies to do the background work to develop health apps that consumers actually adopt and use.

"This idea of designing Snapchat and WhatsApp is not going to be that easy in healthcare, so try to find your safety belt, we’ve got a bit more work to do," he said. "But, if you don’t get it right, we will have another tech bubble, and believe me this is an opportunity that, right now, healthcare cannot afford to miss. We have to get it right."

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