The ultimate goal of health care is to bring the patient through his or her medical condition and ensure full and swift recovery as efficiently as possible. As a result, patient experience is one of the most essential criteria allowing to evaluate the effectiveness of health care. A possible way to provide better services and improve consumer experience is by implementing technological innovations. Throughout history, medicine and health care have always been areas that required considerable professional expertise and the ability to implement complex cutting-edge solutions. Hence, health care as a professional field holds special potential for implementing innovations and using technology to ensure better results and improve the experiences of everyone involved. Under contemporary conditions, health care can benefit significantly from digital technologies and new solutions driven by them. Examples of such solutions are mobile health applications and interoperability between different systems in health care. Both solutions promote timely access to relevant information for professionals and patients while offering quantitative and qualitative benefits alike, and, therefore, lead to better consumer experience and deserve implementation through comprehensive and well-designed strategies.
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Mobile Health Applications
In terms of consumer experience, the first advantage of mobile health applications is the availability of information. Applications allow patients to evaluate their health and fitness, monitor chronic diseases, follow treatment plans, and communicate with health care providers easily (Khachatryan, 2015). The only thing necessary to benefit from this innovation is a mobile device with an application installed, and then the information on one’s health always remains easily accessible. Due to the range of devices currently available, a person is likely to find the appropriate option (Chand, Mishra, & Tripathi, 2016, p. 1). The use of mobile health applications allows distributing information to patients directly, thus bridging the gap between “knowing what to do and doing it at scale” (Arie, 2015, p. 1). Such applications as “Hello, Doctor” allow conducting mass health care campaigns with unprecedented efficiency. In essence, mobile health applications fulfill the ultimate purpose of consumer-oriented healthcare: empowering patients to “gather information on their health status” (Sunyaev, 2014, p. 1). As a result, the availability of relevant medical information promoted by the use of mobile health applications makes it an impactful innovation that improves the consumer experience.
Apart from the availability of information, mobile health devices also allow delivering medical services more efficiently by designing them to suit each particular case better. Easy access aside, the purpose of health care is to devise and implement effective solutions that improve patients’ conditions – bringing the patient through illness is still the ultimate criterion of the positive consumer experience. This is why not only consumers but physicians themselves must use mobile health applications to make clinical decisions (Khachatryan, 2015). Fast access to the information regarding a particular patient allows medical professionals to make more informed decisions best suited for the case at hand and do so in a timely fashion. For example, the application “SkinVision” dedicated to detecting skin cancer “offers a unique opportunity to tailor health care to meet patient needs” (Khachatryan, 2015, p. 481). Thus, the use of mobile applications becomes conducive to better treatment and, as a consequence, higher chances of recuperation. This tendency should, in turn, affect the consumer experience positively, thus making mobile health applications an innovation worth implementing in health care.
One may point to a disadvantage of these applications based on the limited potential of the devices they are designed for. In general, mobile devices tend to have lower storage and calculation capacity than stationary computers (Chand et al. 2016). Additionally, mobile devices have notable privacy and security issues when compared to other systems (Chand et al. 2016, p. 4). This is all the more important since health care data has stringent “confidential, privacy, and security concerns” (Ahuja, Mani, & Zambrano, 2012, p. 17). If a health care provider proves unable to protect the sensitive data of the patients because of technical vulnerabilities, this will likely affect the consumer experience negatively. However, one may circumvent this potential disadvantage by using cloud computing. Implementing this solution would overcome the mobile devices’ limitations “in terms of storage, security, and privacy issues” (Chand et al. 2016, p. 4). Provided the speed of the Internet is sufficient, cloud computing mostly solves the problems pertaining to the limited capacity of the devices used. However, the ability to use cloud computing successfully and efficiently would demand interoperability between different platforms and health systems.
Interoperability in Health Care
Another critical technological innovation that may vastly improve the consumer experience in health care if implemented is interoperability. The term generally refers to the “ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged” (Guedria, Lamine, & Pingaud, 2014, p. 2). When applied to health care, it means, first and foremost, effective and unhindered data exchange without encountering technical difficulties (Morgan, 2017). For this purpose, the health care system must ensure the technical compatibility of the devices and software used. This is not a simple task due to the vast differences between the existing “protocols, O.S, programming languages, platforms, data formats, databases and approaches” employed in health care (Ahuja et al., 2012, p. 17). However, succeeding in establishing technical interoperability would improve the information sharing between all the parties involved in securing the medical well-being of the patient. This would, in turn, provide a corresponding boost to the efficiency of the services offered. Better and faster service would have a positive impact on the patient experience, which is why interoperability is a crucial technological solution worth implementing in health care.
However, one must also be aware that interoperability in health care goes further than the compatibility of hardware and software, as it has the potential to facilitate the cooperation between different parties and institutions. The purpose of interoperability is not merely ensuring that clinicians, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies use the same or compatible devices. In the end, interoperability should facilitate the productive cooperation between medical professionals, with information shared and used “regardless of location or facility, vendor or machine” (Burge, 2014, p. 83). It is for this reason that data integration on a technical level, while of immense importance, is still only a prerequisite, albeit a necessary one, “to systems integration” (Ahuja et al., 2012, p. 17). An example of such integration is “the M-Care of the Hanyang University Medical Center” in Seoul, South Korea, where technical compatibility and information integration facilitate interaction between professionals. (Lee, 2018, p. 3). Thus, interoperability is essential for a positive consumer experience not only in the sense of technical compatibility but also as a way to improve the overall efficiency of health care by facilitating efficient cooperation.
Apart from that, ensuring interoperability may also have an indirect positive impact on the consumer experience in health care. Ensuring that difficult facilities could share information freely involves more than compatible hardware and software – it demands similar approaches to formatting the data. As of now, data standardization and formatting remain an obstacle on the path to interoperability (Ahuja et al., 2012, p. 17). For example, the employees of a particular hospital may format the phone number as 1234567890. However, a different facility may format and process the same number as (123) 456-7890. Thus, further standardization of information formatting becomes just as necessary for successful interoperability as the technical compatibility of the devices used. While potentially costly, this enforcement of universal standards would affect the patient experience with health care positively. If all the facilities and professionals a patient could encounter used the same data formatting, it would make it easier for a patient to interact with them, because there would be no necessity to adapt. As a result, even the indirect consequences of ensuring interoperability in health care have the potential to improve the consumer experience.
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There are different ways in which the broader introduction of mobile health applications and interoperability in health care may improve patient experience, with one of those being greater perceived control. As a rule, the patients tend to feel better about their encounters with the health care system if they see themselves as successfully controlling their health. Berhane and Enquselassie (2016) mention that “perceived control of [one’s] health” is one of the factors correlating strongly with the positive consumer experience in healthcare. Mobile applications, such as “Our Journey in the Hospital” or “SkinVision” allow patients to receive relevant information on their health status, empowering them to control it (Khachatryan, 2015). As long as interoperability not only serves medical professionals but also focuses on the interactions between the “clinician, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient,” it provides a patient with a greater sense of control (Morgan, 2017, p. 84). Thus, technological solutions discussed in the paper are conducive to the higher perceived control of one’s health. Since this control perception correlates better customer experience with health care, one may safely assume that both mobile health applications and interoperability improve the patient experience.
Apart from allowing patients greater perceived control of their health, the adoption of new technologies also enables swifter access to necessary services. Provided a patient has minimal mastery of either mobile health applications or interoperable systems, said patient might significantly reduce the time required to receive health care. For instance, a patient with some technological savvy may “easily use the hospital’s online system” to pay the health bills instead of waiting in line to do that (Lee, 2018, p. 3). Additionally, an experienced patient well-versed in the new technological solutions may access “medical records and other documents” without direct contact with hospital personnel as well (Lee, 2018, p. 3). As technologies allow the consumers to save time, they lead to improved consumer experience with health care.
Finally, new technological solutions also empower patients to be more active in their interactions with health care providers. Patient’s utilization of any mobile health applications and interoperable systems alike generates valuable practical knowledge, which the service provider may later use to improve the services. The feedback from the customers allows a care provider “to induce changes in knowledge and identify the advantages and disadvantages of the new knowledge” (Lee, 2018, p. 3). Thus, using mobile health applications and interoperable systems allows the patient to potentially influence the health care system and change it for the better, which is also conducive to a better patient experience.
Arguments for Adoption
The advantages of adopting mobile health applications and interoperable systems in health care are numerous, but one may separate them into two basic categories, the first of which is hard benefits. Hard benefits are quantitative improvements in health care calculated through a number of relevant variables. These variables include cost reduction, reduced number of hospital admissions and re-admissions, a smaller number of emergency hospital admissions, and a reduced number of trips between home and hospital for the patient (Guedria et al., 2014). For example, “SkinVision” directly affects the number of trips between home and hospital, as its allows the patient to receive necessary consultation without contacting the professional physically (Khachatryan, 2015). However, mobile health applications and interoperable systems also enable customers to control their health more efficiently, meaning they lead to a reduced number of admissions, emergency admissions, and re-admissions indirectly. As a result, the hard benefits of adopting the new technological solutions speak for themselves and constitute a valid argument for why these solutions deserve implementation in health care.
When discussing the implementation of mobile health applications and interoperable systems, one should also keep in mind the soft benefits of their adoption. Soft benefits refer to the qualitative improvements associated with the new technological solutions and include “improved relations between patient and healthcare professional, increased patient comfort” and general wellness (Guedria et al., 2014, p. 1). For instance, the application “Our Journey in the Hospital” supplies parents with the information on their children’s hospital stay, thus improving parent-professional interaction (Khachatryan, 2015). Hence, soft benefits relate directly to the customer experience, which is now the priority in health care (Lee, 2018). This approach necessarily presumes that “patient-focused operational efficiency takes precedence over simply providing services in a routine way” (Lee, 2018, p. 4). As a result, the qualitative soft benefits of introducing new technological solutions to health care are at least as important as, if not more significant than, the purely numerical hard benefits. Hence, it is plausible to say that the soft benefits of mobile health applications and interoperable systems in health care also constitute a strong and viable argument in favor of their adoption.
Approaches and Strategies to Promote Patient-Centered Care
New technological solutions will not simply emerge as a part of daily practice themselves, which is why health care providers will have to introduce specifically designed strategies to facilitate their implementation. The first and most obvious example of such a strategy would be developing and implementing specifically-designed operational models for health care facilities. According to Lee (2018), many hospitals, such as the Hanyang University Medical Center, have already developed “operational models that provide the best possible treatment outcome and experience through digital technologies” (p. 2). This fact means that organizational efforts specifically tailored to facilitate the adoption of digital innovations are already familiar to health care professionals. This familiarity should make it easier to devise similar strategies for new technological solutions, such as mobile health applications and interoperable systems. Realizing the full capabilities of these innovations would require developing comprehensive operational models that not only include interoperability or mobile health devices as components but focus on these solutions consistently.
Another important strategy is concentrating on stimulating the patients to use these new solutions. As mentioned above, the innovations discussed in this paper have numerous hard and soft benefits (Guedria et al., 2014). However, one should not assume that these benefits alone may suffice to make mobile health applications and interoperable systems popular among the customers. Using these innovations successfully requires at least a minimal level of technological savvy, which is why it may prove challenging “for the elderly or those who are less accustomed to modern technologies” (Lee, 2018, p. 3). To promote patient-centered care, medical professionals should actively encourage the use of new technological solutions that have the potential to improve the consumer experience. As a consequence, it is pivotal for a health care provider to offer “opportunities for patients to learn technology supported systems to positively encounter many changes in the healthcare environment” (Lee, 2018, p. 3). An example of such a strategy is the implementation of the widely popular “RingMD” in India (Lee, 2018). If care providers encourage the use of mobile health applications and interoperable systems by the patients, it will both improve the consumer experience and promote patient-centered care.
Finally, one more essential strategy to promote patient-centered care based on the new technological solutions is maintaining close contact between the customers and the service providers. Without actively gathered and carefully evaluated patient feedback, health care providers will be, at best, able to offer routine medical services, but not the patient-centered care (Lee, 2018, p. 4). Based on a comprehensive survey, Berhane and Enquselassie (2016) recommend that health service providers and managers should consistently “focus on patient experience to enhance patient satisfaction” (p. 1925). Gathering the feedback would enable the health care provider to fill the perceived gaps in their approach and devise better care (Lee, 2018, p. 2). Apart from that, this feedback would also allow to correct and improve the functioning of the specific applications and data systems used to increase the patient’s convenience. In any case, gathering, evaluating, and implementing feedback is essential for the promotion of patient-centered care. New technological solutions, such as mobile health applications and interoperable systems, may be vastly beneficial in this respect, but only as long as the managers and clinicians actively seek to improve the consumer experience.
As one can see, new technological solutions, such as mobile health applications and interoperable systems, provide considerable opportunities to improve patient experience in health care. Mobile health applications enable patients to receive information on their health quickly and efficiently. Interoperable systems in health care have similar advantages, but also enable productive cooperation between the health care providers. These innovations may improve the patient experience significantly, as they increase the perceived control of one’s health, reduce the time necessary to receive the service, and allow influencing the way in which services are provided. Both hard or quantitative and soft or qualitative benefits of mobile health applications and interoperable systems represent valid arguments for their introduction in health care. For this introduction to be successful, a health care provider should develop comprehensive operational models, encourage and help the patients to use technological innovations, and gather and evaluate feedback. If implemented in this way, mobile health applications and interoperable systems would improve the consumer experience and promote patient-centered care at the same time.
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