Are smartphones hitting their stride in healthcare?

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

Smartphone-based care coordination platforms have gone mainstream in healthcare.

That's the opinion of Trey Lauderdale, founder and CEO of Voalte, who says his customers are no longer trend-setters and innovators in the mHealth space, but large, established, multi-hospital health systems that are dumping their legacy networks and looking for an all-inclusive platform.

For proof, Lauderdale points to Voalte's latest investors: EHR giant Cerner and Ascension Ventures, which touts almost 375 hospitals in 46 states as partners. They and longtime partner Bedford Funding have just invested $17 million in the Sarasota, Fla.-based company, bringing Voalte's total capital raised to nearly $60 million in three years and signaling what he feels is a dramatic shift in the market.

"This is a watershed moment for the industry," said Lauderdale, head of one of the more energetic players in the space, which added 44 contracts in the last quarter alone and now works with more than 150 healthcare providers nationwide. The company also has partnerships with other EHR vendors like Epic and mHealth stalwarts like Airstrip.

[See also: Nurses and smartphones: A vital connection]

Voalte offers a smartphone-based platform for communications and care coordination, available as a device-and-platform (popular with nurses and populations stationed in one place) or as an app for those with BYOD policies (favored by doctors who want to keep their own smartphones and those who move around often).

Lauderdale said the mHealth market took root first in education- and research-based hospitals and pediatric hospitals, who tend to be early adopters of new technology. Now the bigger, more established health systems are catching on.

He said the company's ability to scale up from small hospitals to multi-site networks is attracting the large healthcare systems who are pressured by both doctors and consumers - who have smartphones and want to be able to use them. Many in the C-Suite are dealing with EHR integrations or upgrades, meaningful use concerns and ICD-10, so they want something that can be implemented across the enterprise.

"They weren't the first to embrace new technology, but now they see where the market is headed," he added, pointing the research forecasts that indicate the global mHealth market will grow almost 50 percent in each of the next five years, jumping from $14.5 billion this year to roughly $49 billion in 2020. "And that market (is centered on) the smartphone."

"The market demands an enterprise-grade, secure healthcare communication platform solution to improve clinical workflow and ultimately deliver better patient care at a lower cost," said Charles Jones, Managing Partner at Bedford Funding, a private equity firm that invested $36 million in the company in 2014, said in a press release. "We are confident Voalte can deliver on those needs, and we are pleased to offer our continued support."

William Gish, Cerner's senior director, said Voalte integrates well with the company's CareAware Connect smartphone solution.

Lauderdale said he's been most surprised as "the number of point solutions that seem to have popped up overnight," noting that at one point he was tracking more than 90 competitors in the market. Some hit the mark with easy messaging solutions, while others add on layers for care coordination, alarm management and other services.

"It really did, for a while, create a lot of noise in the market," he added. "But as the space continues to gain momentum, you're seeing new ideas that really weren't ready for the market start to fall off," and others with reliable technology take hold.

Going forward, Lauderdale sees a focus on interoperability, with care coordination platforms that can work seamlessly with EHRs, population health tools, remote monitoring platforms and connected devices. He's not sure that wearables or smartwatches will fit that role, as "they're more for entering and consuming data" than communication ("We learned that lesson with the iPad," he added).

Health systems "aren't just interested in a simple messaging product," he concluded.

See also: 

mHealth masters: Why mobility should be mandatory

How post-acute care coordination really works