Health Apps Face Challenges

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5min 00sec

Host Lead: The high tech arms race in health care has come to your smart phone. Hospitals and doctors are trying to connect with patients, and potential patients, through iPhones, Androids and Blackberries.
Portable devices could transform the patient experience, but it won’t happen until all the players in health care learn to talk to each other. CPR Health Reporter Eric Whitney explains.

CPR Health Reporter Eric Whitney: In May, executives at HealthOne, the state's second-largest hospital chain called a press conference.

Executive at press conference: Welcome everyone, thanks for coming (fade under)....

Whitney: The announcement? New data, now available.

Executive: Starting today, HealthOne will be posting on our website, the average wait times for any of the emergency departments in the HealthOne system.

Whitney: That represents HealthOne raising the stakes. Rival Centura, Colorado’s biggest hospital chain, started posting wait times at one of its hospital's emergency rooms in January, it was the first in the state.
Now HealthOne is offering E-R wait times for seven locations. And, they even have their own smartphone app.

Executive 2: And the ability to get that information on the phone, we think will be a very valuable tool.

Whitney: The app uses the phone's geo-locator to find the nearest HealthOne hospital, and offers a map to get you there, and doctor wait times.

Pretty valuable information, but “siloed,” That means it's specific to one entity, in this case a hospital chain. So if you want to know which hospital is closest, period, not just a HealthOne hospital, the app doesn't help.
And what if you're traveling, and need to find medical help in an unfamiliar place?

That happened to Claire O'Connor recently.

Claire O'Connor: So, it's two in the morning and I'm in a cold sweat (laughs).

Whitney: She reaches for her phone.

O'Connor: I typed in symptoms...
Whitney: So you just went straight to Google?
O'Connor: straight to Google, yes.

Whitney: Google led to the WebMD web page, which helped O'Conner deduce she probably had a kidney infection. That led her to end her trip early and fly home. When she got to DIA, she knew she was going to go directly to an emergency room, but which one?

O'Connor: So I started Googling, again, my current health insurance, and where it was accepted and what the closest hospitals were.

Whitney: Her Blackberry helped O'Connor figure out what woke her up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m., and then guided her to the healthcare she wanted quickly.
That's pretty good for a little electrified puck that fits in the palm of her hand, but still a bit clunky.
She had to go to one website to check her symptoms, another to check her insurance, and third find the closest ER or clinic.
Seems like somebody could put all that together, kinda streamline things.

O'Connor: They should have an app for that (laughs).

Whitney: Turns out a couple of guys from Lakewood do, or at least have an app that comes close. It's called iTriage, and it's burning up the download charts.

iTriage Co-Founder Dr. Wayne Guerra: We have over 2 million downloads now, 650,00 people using it every month.

Whitney: Wayne Guerra, an emergency room doctor at Porter Adventist Hospital, and a partner came up with iTriage. It's a symptom-checker like WebMD, but it also goes the next step, and points users to the closest medical care, wherever they are in the U.S.

Guerra: the best way to think about it is, we're a symptom to provider pathway. So we take you from your symptom, help you organize your thoughts around your symptoms, what are possible causes? And lead you right to the appropriate place to go.

Whitney: Guerra and his partner patented their idea and launched the company in 2008. They give away their app for free, and then sell “enhanced listings,” or ads, to hospitals, doctors and pharmacies.
It's kind of like a medical yellow pages. And it's a business model that seems to be working.

Guerra: we started in the doldrums of a recession, three people and now have a company of 35 and will probably double or triple in growth by the end of the year.

Whitney: But as useful and popular as iTriage is, it still suffers from information silo-ing in health plans and personal health care. Getting a diagnosis and a list of nearby clinics is great, but which of those clinics takes my health insurance? Guerra says iTriage is trying to offer that information, but getting it isn't easy.

Guerra: It's disparate, and so, you know, one health plan has it in a certain dataset in a certain format, another health plan has it in a completely different format. Believe it or not, we had one health plan tell us they couldn't even access it easily, because they're on legacy systems and it's even hard for them to do it.

Whitney: This digital tower of Babel is hamstringing the truly revolutionary potential of smart phones in health care. What people need is a personal health record in the palm of their hand, one that's constantly updated by all the different places they go for health care. So says Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, a mobile health technology consultant and blogger.

Health Technology Blogger Jane Sarasohn-Kahn: Whether its a lab test, pick up something at a pharmacy, enter the ER, get re-hab, all those encounters have data associated with them, and if that data resides in a siloed way in each of those places, then you will never have a complete view of your personal health.

WHITNEY 26: Projects -private, state and federal- are underway to get everyone in health care speaking the same digital language, so people can get a complete picture of their health, right on that little screen in the palm of their hand.

Sarasohn-Kahn says people's smart phones should start lighting up with the fruits of those efforts in a couple of years.

Learn more HaealthOne's ER locator smart phone app here.

Learn more about iTriage here.

Centura's Porter Adventist Hospital offers ER wait times on iTriage.