I recently started using the mobile health application MyFitnessPal. It allows me to enter the foods I eat, track my exercise, and it calculates my fitness and future weight. Their database includes almost any food that can be purchased or made.
It allows you to scan barcodes of foods and it knows what constitutes the size of a single serving. This is proving to be a bit of a problem. For example, according to the application a box of Rice-a-Roni would be enough to serve almost everyone in Tibet. That comes to about one grain of rice and one piece of roni per person. I tried to enter into application that the sixteen-ounce bag of Doritos counted as single serving. My phone started to vibrate—I think that is how the application laughs.
Based on what you ate, at the end of each day the application forecasts what you will weigh at some future date. Last night it told me that if I kept eating at my current pace it would cancel my account.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Two guys walk into a garage…
Forty percent of people use one or more of the forty thousand health applications available for mobile devices. Most of the applications, as rudimentary as they may be as far as their ability to improve one’s health, are designed for people who are interested in living healthier and longer. At this stage of the game what is noteworthy is not whether or not these apps are effective.
What is noteworthy is that people want digital and mobile tools to help them live healthier lives. Two people working out of their garage can get more people to download their health app and use it every day than a five hundred bed hospital can get people to revisit their website once a quarter. That is significant.
People are looking to the web to live healthier lives. As we move closer to population health, ACOs, and home care people are seeking guidance and information from people they have never met, from organizations they have never heard of, organizations that have no bona fides. They are not seeking that help from hospitals because when they have looked to hospitals to provide it the information has not been available.
A hospital will tape a flier to an elevator about their smoking cessation clinic. Hospitals may post a link to a weight-loss video on their web site. Hospitals offer good programs, much more credible programs than are available from these health apps, but these programs are closely held secrets. They are secrets because there is no awareness. Nobody looks to hospitals first for an interactive way to help them be healthy. In the same way that people want to get better, they want to find the way quickly.
While there is plenty of lip-service, a hospital’s mindset, its focus, at least when thought of by patients and prospective patients is that these types of services are incidental to its primary mission. Think about what you do when you have symptoms you do not understand. Is your first choice to go to your hospital’s website to learn what they are? Probable not. You go to a place like WebMD, you go to Google, or Facebook, or YouTube. We rely on discussion groups and chat rooms of former patients, people we have never met.
When it comes to getting healthy and staying healthy hospitals tend to be the solution of last resort. Many people become hospital patients only after they have exhausted their own abilities to source the problem.
People, patients and prospective patients, go to websites and use apps because the experience they receive from those sources, while not exceptional, are better than no experiences.
If two guys in a garage can drive people to use the apps or the website they built why can’t hospitals? Patient experience comes in a lot of forms and for these types of experiences hospitals aren’t offering much.
Many of the patients hospitals receive are the result of purchasing decisions those people made based on information they collected from somewhere other than the hospital. If hospitals want to be the go-to providers, the repositories of information, their mindsets must change. Hospitals need to learn how to drive “stickiness” and to control the dialog.