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Mobile Apps Aren’t Just for the Big Guys

March 16, 2015
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Small Kansas community hospital moves portal data to smartphone apps

Last week I wrote something about clinicians building mobile apps to target specific populations: either other clinicians or patients with chronic conditions. But another area of growth is mobile apps for delivering the same information that is in a patient portal.

And from a recent discussion I learned that offering those types of mobile apps is not just the province of large health systems.

I spoke recently with Larry Barnes, vice present and CIO, and Michael McEldowney, director of IT, for Salina Regional Health Center, a small two-hospital system in north-central Kansas. They are proving that fairly sophisticated mobile solutions are not out of reach of community hospitals.

The Engage app, developed by Silicon Valley-based NavisHealth, is available for both Apple and Android devices. It offers features such as access to lab results and prescriptions. It also enables users to set up medication reminders and monitor their blood pressure. Another built-in feature lists physician contact information and uses a telephone directory of medical providers available right from the app.

Salina is a Meditech client/server shop that has achieved HIMSS Analytics stage 6. ”We have been fortunate to implement quite a few advanced IT applications,” Barnes said. “We decided to use Meditech’s patient portal because it is very simple and straightforward to use. And we wanted something a non-IT person could use. I can’t say we had a great deal of usage, but enough to meet meaningful use,” he said. At a board meeting three or four months ago, the board chairman asked if Salina was going to do any apps. We didn’t have any on the horizon, but Mac [McEldowney] was having a conversation with NavisHealth about some other issues and they happened to mention they were working on apps. I believe we are the first user to go live with it. We demonstrated it at a board meeting last month. I don’t know that we have ever brought anything to board members and had such a positive response. Several board members had iPhones out downloading it while we were doing the demo."

McEldowney said that for Salina, the whole process took only eight weeks. “Security is an extremely important issue,” he said. “As we went through the process, we had to make sure that was of importance to the vendor, too.”

He added that the intention was to have a soft go-live. “We felt like we were adopting it early in product development, but it has taken off on its own. We have been pleasantly surprised. It has not been an avalanche, but we have been very pleased by the number of people using it.

On their feature wish list for product developments include patient-generated data sent to clinicians, a “caregiver” feature to allow family members access, and electronic bill pay.

“We have been pleasantly surprised that in a small, rural community, there has been the acceptance and use of it,” Barnes said. “Quite honestly I didn't’ think there would be a great deal of use. But I have been proven wrong. More people download it than we thought.”