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Should Healthcare Center Around Tablets … or Tablets? A Four-Step Guide to Delivering on the Promise of the ACA

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law in 2010, was enacted to bring down the barriers of price and access for insurance coverage and to eventually improve the overall quality of healthcare. ACA was designed to foster competition and encourage efficiencies by focusing on outcomes as opposed to activity.

By challenging healthcare providers and payers to focus on the results of services and products provided, not simply their availability, the ACA hopes to create a new paradigm in which the industry is driven by and measured against what truly matters: the health of patients.

ACA will usher in a time where pills take a supporting role — as possible solutions for some maladies — and the healthcare industry shifts to focus on health data and how it can be harnessed to track, guide, predict, support and improve overall health.

Where does the iPad® fit in this new world?
As discussed throughout our tablet series, we believe that tablets like the iPad can serve as a healthcare hub, merging streams of data to become a health command center for a patient or a healthcare professional. Apple, of course, has seen these same possibilities and been quietly working toward this vision.

We believe that the untapped promise of the iPad is not simply its ability to engage the user or gamify interactions. Tablets shine because they combine engaging form factor and user experience with data gathering, data collecting, data analyzing, and — perhaps most importantly — predictive capabilities. And pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity and resources to bring this to life by supporting patients throughout their entire health journey.

What will it look like?
In our post “One Step Ahead of UX”, we gave this example:

Imagine a university student with diabetes, whose iPad contains textbooks and notes, but can also give a pop-up reminder in the quad, reminding them to have lunch between classes and recommending meal options based on their weight (from their scale that morning), their blood glucose level (from their contacts), a medication dosing reminder (from their pharma-sponsored app), their schedule (from their calendar), their current location (from the tablet’s GPS), and the menu options being served that day (from the school’s website). That’s the potential: easily and proactively enabling informed, healthy behaviors.

That deceptively simple user experience is based on utilitarian data analysis, interactivity and learning. An iPad is not only a portable data aggregator, but also provides its own contributions based on everything from time to geography to movement. This is what will help make real outcomes-based medicine possible.

Outcomes research depends not only on the overall end game — survival — but on countless interim data points. Prescription refills, weight, BMI, blood pressure — all of these are important. However, perhaps more important are the countless choices that we make every day that affect our health. Will we catch the bus or is the weather fine enough that we can walk? When and what shall we eat? How much stress will we be exposed to and what mechanisms do we have to manage it?

It is, of course, possible to improve healthcare without tablets, but they make it easier to gather new kinds of data in unimagined amounts and detail.

Despite Apple HealthKit’s intentions, there may never be one universal device or app that everyone uses to manage health — or, at least, the chances are small. We tend to prefer having choices, and health is such an intensely personal issue that it’s incredibly unlikely one solution could work or that people would want it to. That multiplicity is exciting, though. Not only does it allow space for competition, but competition will press toward more capable products. And we think nothing sounds more exciting.

What should our next steps be?
Where do we even begin to plan for evolving current apps or creating new ones to support this vision? We’ll close this post, and our series on iPads, by highlighting four key mHealth considerations, laid out by David Windhausen, executive vice president at Intouch Solutions:

  • The No. 1 thing to think about with mobile health is the ability to capture data in a passive way. You have to figure out how to require a minimum amount of proactivity from the user.
  • No. 2: It needs to provide intrinsic motivation, road signs to tell the user where they are along their journey. The app needs to collect passive information and learn from it to provide congratulations, awards, etc.
  • No. 3: It must integrate with the rest of the user’s support network. If the user is a patient, it also needs to connect them with others with the same disease.
  • No. 4: It must integrate with other apps and devices — e.g., a pharmacy app to fill prescriptions, a FitBit, etc. — and must transition from device to device — e.g., laptop, tablet, phone.

If your app doesn’t do these four things, it won’t be used for long. If it does, though, that’s what will make up the true answer to the promise of the ACA, the promise of an integrated personal health ecosystem, and the real paradigm shift in healthcare.

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