Can the implementation of mobile health applications improve patient outcomes and enhance patient engagement? The leaders at South Shore Health System (SSHS) have invested in the proposition that it can. That three-hospital integrated health system, located in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, had been facing the same types of challenges that other integrated health systems have long faced, in terms of consumer health content that was not optimally presented or shared with patients and families.
So, partnering with the Raleigh, N.C.-based MobileSmith, an “app-as-a-Service” company, South Shore leaders have been able to achieve more targeted, consistent messaging and care to all obstetrical patients, regardless of practice.
Now, instead of frustrating users with irrelevant notifications or pages of unnecessary content, expectant mothers can use the app to quickly connect to everything they need to know at each stage throughout their pregnancy.
Among the results SSHS leaders have documented include the following:
- OB-Maternity HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey scores have risen by 68 percent -- jumping SSHS from the 53rd percentile to 89th
- The hospital’s Care Transitions ranking also improved by 40 percent (from 43rd percentile to 60th)
- Nearly 50 percent of new moms have opted for the app over printed handouts
- Beyond new referrals, SSHS saved $10,000-15,000 in printing costs alone last year, reducing wasted paper-based booklets still used by many OB/GYN practices
- SSHS is about to roll out a new bariatrics app that will be used as part of their certification program
Recently, three leaders from South Shore Health System spoke with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about their initiative, and its results. Kim Dever, M.D. is the health system’s chair of obstetrics and gynecology, and president of its medical staff; Luke Poppish is executive director of obstetrical and gynecological services; and Faye Weir, Ph.D., is director of parent/child services for the organization. Below are excerpts from that interview.
Tell me about the origins of this initiative?
Kim Dever, M.D.: At South Shore Health System, patients were getting the bulk of their information through smartphones, and we thought, what better place for our information to go to them, than through the tool they use every day? So, Luke Poppish said, let’s develop an app for our pregnant patients. We wanted to get them information. So we created the South Shore Hospital Babies app… Paper information wasn’t being used or saved. And we also could save money on printing all those brochures, etc. They can time their contractions, they can register for classes. It’s really been a nice way to reach our target audience.
Luke Poppish: We also had a lot of moms coming from a variety of different private practices—five at that time—whose doctors delivered at South Shore. So, we were faced with five different ways of communicating, and sharing feedback. We were getting a lot of input that there was a lot of fragmented communication at the practices, about processes and procedures at the hospital when they would check in. So we wanted to achieve standardization of messages, of focused content, of referrals, etc.
Faye Weir, Ph.D.: It wasn’t a one-and-done. Given the vast amount of work that nurses do in terms of preparation for childbirth and delivery, breastfeeding, post-partum, etc., as Luke partnered to develop the app, we linked him into the shared governance professional practice model here at South Shore, which means that nurses are actively involved in decision-making; so Luke was able to partner with a number of the nurses doing the patient care, and collaborate. It’s been a very iterative process; the staff has been able to identify even other areas to work on, including first-year, second-year areas. So it’s been a very collaborative process.
What has the timeline been like around this initiative?
Weir: In the spring of 2016, we started investigating apps, evaluated them through the early summer, by mid-summer of 2016, we decided to go with MobileSmith—the longest period of time actually was developing and signing the contract—it was a new process for us. That was a two- or three-month process. By late October of 2016, we had a skeleton developed—with feedback from nurses, midwives, and obstetricians. And by the beginning of December, we had our first test app. We launched into the app stores by the end of December of 2016, started marketing it in February 2017. That’s when we started measuring our metrics. We circulated it once it got to the stores, to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Since March of 2017, we’ve probably gone through seven or eight iterations of the app. We’ve added content around transitions of care, breastfeeding and support for breastfeeding, modified some elements. And we’re planning to continue to produce a quarterly to biennial revision of the content, over time.
What have been the biggest challenges and learnings so far in this initiative?
Devers: The biggest has been getting the information to the providers so they could share it with their patients; that’s always a challenge. Next challenge, to get patients to sign up for it. And helping providers help get patients signed up. And then there’s the sustainability needs, once you get the initial group going.
Poppish: And I would say, feedback from the private practices. It was a little bit weird for some of the nurses who had been in practice for a long time not to have lots of pieces of paper—15 to 20 leaflets—to hand out to patients. At first, the practice managers were a little bit reticent. We haven’t yet gone 100-percent app yet. Patients who need any paper can be offered that.
Weir: It was communication, making sure the patients were aware at every contact point in the organization and in the offices, so that we could maximize communication. Having the nurses value this instead of handing out paper. And from time to time, we have to invigorate this. That involves shifting the culture from paper, to a new concept of mobile health.
Poppish: Because it’s free and there’s no protected health information—you simply enter a due date—family members would join in, extended family members would follow the pregnancy, after putting in the due date. And, around the process of taking the education out of the EHR [electronic health record] paperwork and putting it into the app, getting used to that shift—we’ve seen really good progress in that, too.
Weir: I underestimated the involvement that my entire division would want to have—pre-natal, post-natal, and then NICU, and then child development. I underestimated the scope that this particular app would take, well beyond the pregnancy period. That’s part of that ongoing adjustment that we’re making.
Devers: It is dynamic. In the past, if you printed something, you would have to change it entirely. And we found that mental health issues, substance abuse, in the post-delivery phase, those were areas we could add more information into.
And the informational content is private and it’s reliable, because it’s coming from your health system.
Weir: Yes. And as the app’s been built, these places in the app have direct links into it, and we can link them to ACOG [the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology], or do evidence-based breastfeeding information, and so on and so forth—so the patients are landing in the right place and accessing the right sources.
Devers: And we’re tracking we’re they’re going.
Poppish: Yes, with every internal page they hit on the app, we get a monthly report from MobileSmith. And we have a lot of… And we can determine how much and what type of information to add to pages. We get monthly usage data, page viewing data, MobileSmith does the development, and we agreed we would track metrics, for improvement on a quarterly basis. We’ve been tracking HCAHPS around transitions of care and post-partum, and likelihood to recommend. We thought this would have positive impact on.
Has it had a positive impact?
Devers: We definitely can attribute a drop in printing to this.
What would you say to health IT leaders, to clinicians, and to other hospital and health system leaders, about all of this?
Kim: You have to look at your patient and consider them your consiumer and consider where they get their information. I love that the information they’re accessing is information that we know is evidence-based. From the clinical side, the discussion is easy; we just need IT support for this, because there are costs.
Poppish: From an IT standpoint, we’ve learned to keep it as simple as possible. Having a dynamic development platform is important; we’ve changed it many times. It’s important for it to be easy to work with. We also were getting ready to implement Epic at the same time as we were launching this. IT asked whether we needed additional resources, and we said no, we can do this. And it doesn’t have any PHI or HIPAA in it; that would have added a year or longer to its development and implement. So I think IT leaders need to balance how much information they want from patients, what they need, and what is their true goal, and then figure out how many resources you need to support your goal. It helped a lot that we were pretty hands off with them, and that was very helpful.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Poppish: We’ve had such a great success with SSH Babies that this April, we launched an SSH Bariatrics app with a few surgeons—it helps to prep people ot qualify for bariatric surgery. And we’ve had good results with that as well. Possibly soon a post-partum depression and mental health app. Possibly a NICU app. Everybody wants to get their information in; so when do we launch a new app?
Weir: It does provide dynamic and interactive connection to content and to providers.
Devers: And people like to see the doctors, and they like to interact, too, via video tools.