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Mobile Apps in Healthcare and the ‘Expectation of Immediacy’

March 4, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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You could say the leaders at Cook Children’s Health Care System, a one-hospital, multi-clinic system in Fort Worth, Texas, know their patient base pretty well.

When the children and their parents enter the hospital, they are greeted with self-service, check-in kiosks, similar to what someone might see at an airport. The kiosks aim to allow parents to easily check-in their kids for an appointment, centralizing the registration process. There’s only one problem, according to Theresa Meadows, CIO and senior vice president, at Cook Children’s.

“We spent a lot of time designing the kiosk, and making sure there were places for moms to put their stuff, hang their purse, and lay things down,” Meadows says in an exclusive interview with HCI at HIMSS13 in New Orleans. “But what we found, the kids are catching on to the kiosk process a lot faster than the parents. You’ll see the kids with their moms, saying ‘Push that, do this.’ Or they will help them out.”

Meadows and the other leaders understand that kids are not only comfortable with touch-screen technology, but it’s an expectation in their lives. And even if they may get confused at times, parents too have that expectation, she notes. As a result, the hospital is investing in a new patient-access mobile application from QuadraMed (Reston, Va.), that will aim to make the patient experience even easier, Meadows says.

The app will allow for patients to request appointments, receive text updates, pay a bill, view clinical summary documents, and check-in for an appointment using a QR code. What Meadows really appreciates about the app is it easily integrates into Cook Children’s current systems.

“It’s fully integrated into our back-office system, our scheduling system, our patient registry, our billing, system. That’s very important,” Meadows says. On top of that, she adds, it’s very easy to use. “I had a three minute demonstration last night over dinner where we literally scheduled an appointment, requested dates for visits, paid our bill, all taking 2-3 minutes on an iPhone. So it’s very user friendly, with a simple user interface.”

The app will be used in conjunction with Cook Children’s existing app, which includes location information and a symptom checker. Furthermore, the hospital hopes to get patients to use the app through a texting service, which will send a short code to the person’s phone prior to their appointment. The link goes to the QuadraMed app where they can pre-register. The point is introducing them to the app when they need it, so they’ll use it down the line.

Meadows does have security concerns with the app, and she says the health system will work through them. Ultimately, this app, she says, will create a better environment of engagement as it plays into the expectation of immediacy from both kids and their younger parents.

“Having a fast and efficient way to come in, see your doctor, and get to the next thing is very important. Being able to come in, scan your barcode, and get to your appointment as quick as possible will be a huge satisfier to a busy mom who is trying to get everything accomplished. They have an expectation of immediacy.  They believe can’t do it on the iPhone or the cell phone, they are frustrated. When you say it’s not mobile, they’re like ‘What do you mean?’”