Apps—they’re everywhere and for good reason. There’s an app for dinner reservations, an app for mobile directions, an app for weather, an app for news, and the list goes on. Apps are so highly infused in our daily living that for many, it is hard to envision living without them. That is until you get to work.
In most of our healthcare delivery networks, apps have made but small inroads into the daily practice of medicine and the operations of clinical care. It is time we change this paradigm. Apps support two major initiatives that we are pursuing with our information systems at Houston Methodist: Usability and Mobility. Apps inherently place the pressure on good design since the screen size is at a premium. Good design promotes good usability. Apps also are primarily created for mobile devices so their deployment will support our ability to support our mobile workforce.
“Apps inherently place the pressure on good design since screen size is at a premium, which promotes good usability”
There are a number of reasons that apps generally have not been deployed for regular practice and operations use. By addressing each, we will be in a better position to deploy apps and allow our users to take advantage of this mainstream mobile tool.
Software Suppliers: For most of us in healthcare IT, we implement packaged applications from suppliers of software code. This puts us in a position to look first to our software solution providers to find out whether they have developed apps as a unique front end to their applications. With their focus on meaningful use, ICD-10, population health and numerous other regulatory and marketplace initiatives, app development has generally taken a back seat on the software supplier product roadmaps. However, this looks to be changing as more suppliers of healthcare IT software is starting to communicate that app capabilities for their packages are on the horizon. When our suppliers release them, we’ll need to be prepared to support them.
Security: The information security breaches of the last few years highlight a growing Information Security mantra that “username and password are no longer sufficient to protect our data.” Users will expect app access to work when outside our buildings (when they are off-network). We need to protect this off network access through a new round of information security tools called Enterprise Mobility Management or Mobile Device Management. One great feature of these tools is that they allow an organization to put their business apps into a “data container” so that information security is protected. Mobility that users require is protected along with the data.
Software Development: Many health systems have moved away from custom development of applications for a good reason. Complex applications are difficult to code and costly to support when “n” equals one. Large software suppliers can satisfy the workflow needs of many like institutions so the industry has generally favored purchasing these packaged applications in recent years. This has come at a cost of losing some of our best in-house developers.
App development is a great arena to jump back into custom development as it offers the opportunity to self-develop the custom front-end screens while connecting them to the large transactional databases. Large software suppliers are even encouraging this custom app development with their creation of App Stores or App Exchanges so clients can leverage apps built on top of the core transactional database. This looks to be a healthy new trend and one that we look to support in the coming years.
Apps Center: The technical definition of an app is a small client program running on a smartphone or computer with many generally handling the presentation of the data. Internally, we’ve extended the definition of app to also include a webpage with an easy to find a menu of icons for each of the applications we support. We have created a new system called our Houston Methodist Apps Center and this gives our users easy access to the applications they use most. This new website allows access whether onsite or at a remote location, on generally any device or smartphone. This is our anywhere, any device, any application solution. Our team knew long ago that users did not want to be constrained with some corporate IT mandate only supporting certain end-user devices. We shifted to support technologies that support almost all devices.
In our near future, I see that many of us at work will have screens of apps that allow us the interconnectivity to the patient and operational systems that support our delivery of patient care. These apps will start to become as infused in our work lives as they are in our personal lives. We’ll look back one day soon and recall the long lines for a chance to log in at a workstation to update the patient’s chart as but a distant memory.