Is healthcare ready for a Super App?

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Author: Beth Strohbusch, Head of Marketing, Equiva

I enjoyed reading a July 11, 2022 Wall Street Journal article titled What the Heck Is a ‘Super
App’ and Why Are Elon Musk, Evan Spiegel and Jack Dorsey So Interested?

Christopher Mims, WSJ technology columnist, writes: “Unlike regular apps, which for years
have been built to do one thing well, so-called super apps can do it all, or at least that’s the
idea. By granting them powers that previously required firing up many other apps, their
builders hope you’ll spend more time with them than ever.”

My perspective is this: Like many tech buzz words, the use of the term “super app” may be all hype. The concept behind the term,” however, is so much more than hype. It’s actually quite powerful.

Mims highlights the 2011 launch of WeChat by a Chinese internet company: “It started as a cross between a messaging app and a social medium but has grown to encompass everything from ride hailing and e-commerce to mobile payments and even government services. Today it has nearly 1.3 billion users, mostly in China.”

Do we have a parallel-type super app offering in the West? Not so much, says to Mims. It’s likely that by the time Chinese tech giants began building such apps, the West had already developed an ecosystem of more singular-focused companies and services addressing the range of a super app’s offerings, he surmises.

Unlike the East, many of the super app-type services in the West started out on PCs. Mims shares this perspective from Feifei Liu, a researcher with user-experience consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group: In China, most people’s first experience of the internet was on a mobile device, and users had no expectations about how it should work. The simultaneous rise of WeChat and the boom in smartphone adoption in China created a different set of expectations for what a single app should be able to do, she says.

In reading the WSJ article, and specifically Feifei’s observations, I couldn’t help but think about the application of the super app concept in healthcare. What could and should a healthcare super app look like and how might it bring value to our industry’s ecosystem?

While digital health innovation has brought value to consumers and clinicians, especially for location-neutral care delivery and coordination, there are simply too many options available today. According to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science’s 2021 Trends Report, more than 90,000 new digital health applications were added to app stores in 2020—an average of more than 250 per day. Apps that focus on managing specific diseases or health conditions rather than wellness management now make up 47% of apps, compared with 28% in 2015.

As mobile apps have proliferated, so too has a growing range of options for wearables and connected devices designed to support remote patient monitoring and chronic care management. In its report on Remote Patient Monitoring Trends & Health Devices in 2021, Insider Intelligence estimates that 70.6 million US patients, or 26.2% of the population, will use RPM tools by 2025.

Authors of the IQVIA trends report say digital health tools are the focus of growing clinical evidence research and can lower barriers to adoption. More than 2,000 studies on digital health app effectiveness have been published since 2007, with almost 1,500 published in the past five years, they write.

Many of these studies are showing positive results. The Insider Intelligence report says, “Providers using RPM-enabled home health monitoring systems and other telehealth delivery methods are reducing hospital readmission penalties. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, reduced the risk of hospital readmissions by 76% —and held patient satisfaction scores over 90% — by equipping patients with tablets and RPM equipment.”

The same authors write: “Seniors are driving positive ROI from RPM technology and home-
based care, largely due to the cohort’s high incidence of multiple chronic diseases.” They also cite a KLAS Research report where 38% of healthcare organizations (HCOs) running chronic care-focused RPM programs reported a reduction in admissions, while 17% cited cost reductions.”

Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, said this in a statement: “We are finding evidence of a growing maturity of digital health tools in mainstream medicine. We are beginning to detect improved quality of the digital health tools used in the management of health conditions. These quality improvements result in robust evidence of their impact on patient outcomes and subsequent inclusion in clinical practice.”

Apps and devices are plentiful and are here to stay. A 2021 report from McKinsey & Company
showcases data from interviews with key healthcare leaders. Most agreed that digital health ecosystems will generate great economic impact (86%), are critical to offer to existing customers (82%,) and need to be integrated with existing products (77%.) The most common core belief about these ecosystems, however, is that patients are looking for integrated journeys rather than single solutions (90%).

How do HCOs move from today’s reality of siloed, one-off point solutions to a truly integrated offering that supports a more complete patient journey, especially in the home? Ah, yes, we need a healthcare super app, a one-stop digital environment providing multiple services within a single framework. Better yet, let’s be sure the solution can be easily configured by the HCO to align to specific population needs.

More than three quarters of McKinsey interviewees said they expected high demand for convenient digital health ecosystems among customers. The authors say that “respondents largely prefer the ‘string-of-pearls’ approach, in which individual applications reference one another, with the customer needing only a single sign-on account.”

This string-of-pearls approach resonated with players in the pharmaceuticals sector, pharmacies, medtech, start-ups, and governments, McKinsey’s report says.

“By contrast, healthcare providers, big-tech players, and payers and insurer respondents prefer the so-called super app approach, in which an app integrates several functionalities from multiple (players) in one place,“ they wrote.

“While (respondents) assume customers will demand integrated patient journeys, 64% deem the string-of-pearls approach to be ‘more realistic’ because integrating various solutions into a single app is highly complex and requires significant effort per solution,” they added.

My Equiva colleagues and I agree. For HCOs, the super app approach — namely custom integration of various solutions into a single, integrated patient journey-focused environment — can be complex. But HCOs do not need to reinvent the wheel. The industry is making headway toward the healthcare super app model.

At Equiva, we’re pleased to have gotten on this bandwagon more than a decade ago. We’ve worked with some of our nation’s most renowned healthcare systems to bring disparate offerings together in an holistic patient engagement environment.

Our health relationship management platform helps healthcare organizations develop and retain long term customer relationships while supporting initiatives to advance health equity, improve health outcomes and drive financial success. We blend aspects of patient engagement, care management, and marketing in a framework that bridges data analytics with education and behavioral science-driven methodologies — to purposefully mobilize intelligence-driven action among patients (aka consumers,) their loved ones, and members of the care team. Equiva’s SaaS platform is a healthcare point solution aggregation and software delivery environment that can securely power any number of education and engagement solutions via mobile devices (tablets and phones,) kiosks, televisions, digital signage and more.

Equiva’s backend framework ensures HCOs will meet stringent security requirements and can readily integrate with existing enterprise systems such as EHRs, scheduling systems and the like. Of course, no two patients are alike. Our approach is laser-focused on making it fast and easy for HCOs to configure layouts and displays according to specific population needs – and to make updates on the fly without hassle.

Back to Mims’ WSJ article. He writes, “Over time, users (in China) have grown accustomed to (super apps), and have come to appreciate the way an integrated (environment) offers conveniences that a more fragmented internet of mobile websites and apps cannot.”

Indeed, convenience is paramount. Very often when interacting with the healthcare systems, patients are sick and their loved ones are stressed. Many, including the elderly, are technologically illiterate or technophobic. Consumers will not tolerate a future where they must download, securely access, and run updates to multiple digital health offerings. They just won’t.

Ideally, the convenience provided by Equiva’s out-of-the-box “super app” approach will lower consumer’s barriers to adoption. This, in turn, can support HCO’s efforts to better identify and address social determinants of health — with the ultimate goal of advancing health equity.

To further support this, Equiva has packaged our offerings so organizations can start small and grow as they go. Many hospitals, health systems, SNFs, and other HCOs go live with patients on our solutions in a matter of weeks. And, we’ve ensured that our pricing is fair. After all, achieving health equity shouldn’t have to be costly or complex – should it?

Widespread adoption of cumbersome platforms is not realistic or sustainable. Equiva’s is pleased to provide a fresh approach.

What buzz are you hearing about super apps in the healthcare space? Perhaps you’d drop me a line and let me know.

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