LAS VEGAS—Roughly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone,1 and one-third of smartphone users — about 46 million people — use at least one health app.2  Despite the growing use of these apps, health care providers have yet to fully realize the power of mobile devices for patient engagement and population-level analytics, said Michelle Longmire, M.D., founder of Medable, a platform for building HIPAA-compliant mobile apps, during a session at the HIMSS16 Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas.

The retail industry was one of the first to launch mobile apps for customer engagement. As the customer base for these apps grew, retailers gained access to analytics that could be mined for customer insights.

The same could be achieved by health care providers, producing data that could help clinicians and researchers better understand the effectiveness of various treatments among patients with certain attributes. However, HIPAA compliance has been a barrier for the development of mobile apps that collect and transmit electronic personal health information, said Longmire. Medable hopes to remove this barrier for app developers by “offloading technical risks and safeguards” for developers who use its platform.

Longmire, a Stanford University dermatologist, is bullish about the ability of apps to “build and analyze longitudinal data on various conditions, treatments and devices,” thereby improving clinicians’ understanding of various treatment options. 

“We’re seeing more and more research happening on mobile,” said Longmire, who explains that using mobile monitoring of biometric measures is not only more convenient for the study participants, but also provides a “very rich, very robust” data set that would never be available if biometric data were limited to weekly or monthly measurements entered into an electronic health record.

For example, Stanford researchers are currently studying migrane triggers through mobile data sources.

In the future, researchers will be able to use the data derived from mobile apps to predict patients likely to develop certain conditions or those treatments most likely to be effective, said Longmire.

“The things we intended to do with the EMR we will never do with the EMR,” Longmire explained. Instead, it will be other platforms, such as mobile apps, that allow researchers and providers to “uncover the really meaningful predictive analytics we’re all really hoping to see.”

1 Pew Research Center
2 Nielsen