Universal apps invite thoughts of healthcare utilization

Universal applications, built to work on different mobile devices, could have a future in healthcare. Find out when and where they might pop up.

In the past five years, the consumer healthcare market has been inundated by mobile health applications. Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, allow healthcare professionals to use mHealth apps during and after patient care episodes. But apps have not penetrated all areas of healthcare. Providers still rely on workstations or laptops to complete documentation or review a patient's chart. Developers today face the challenge of creating universal apps that offer consumers a consistent experience across all devices, and that can provide access to a patient's EHRs.

Primarily, EHR applications are used in hospital workstations or on laptops. Regardless of where the application is hosted, end users operate many of today's applications through traditional keyboards and mice. A few vendors offer standalone mobile access to their data, but in most cases the information available on a mobile device is limited and still requires use of the PC-based product. This poses a challenge for healthcare providers because it forces them to continue to rely on separate, dedicated devices to complete their chart notes or interact with a patient's health record.

Cloud vendors have been much more successful in addressing the challenges providers face when using different devices during the course of care. Web-based EHR applications such as those offered by athenahealth Inc., Practice Fusion Inc. and others can offer users more consistent experiences. Physicians can expect similar interfaces and performance across different platforms and devices. However, cases still exist where native applications are needed for specific tasks, including those involving medical imaging, reporting and integration. This complication has forced some software developers to create variations of their products and apps to target specific devices and different user markets.

Some vendors are beginning to blur the lines between apps designed for mobile devices and ones made for tablets, laptops and PCs. Universal apps are applications developed once that can run on any platform. Microsoft is one vendor pushing for more development of universal apps. Software developers that create a healthcare app would be able to support that app on any device that runs Microsoft Windows. For providers and other care professionals, this means any Windows device can operate the same healthcare application.

Some devices may limit how data is captured. Tablets may still require a virtual keyboard, or support a voice-to-text capability. Despite these potential limitations, users want to consolidate their devices by using their smartphones or tablets to do most of what they formerly did on their laptops. As vendors such as Microsoft encourage development of universal apps, end users may soon see a significant increase in app functionality across their devices.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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