Patients Ramp Up Use of Health Data, Health Apps


A new trend report from the American Hospital Association shows that patients and providers have increased their use of health data and mobile health applications. More healthcare providers are making patient records and data available to individuals through portals or other applications and are also taking the results of tracking software like FitBits as contributions to a person’s medical history.

The uptick is pretty dramatic with 92 percent of hospitals allowing patients to see their records online, an increase from 43 percent in 2016. 84 percent of hospitals are also allowing patients to download their health records up from 30 percent in 2013.

More hospitals are moving administrative tasks like bill payment, prescription refills and referrals online allowing patients to initiate these actions on their own without having to call or go in person. 63 percent of providers are also letting patients message their doctors online through email-like systems or via text message.

Even though hospitals have opened up online communication channels, many popular health apps are still failing to attract users that could make the most of them. In a separate article in the Journal of General Medicine, research from the University of California San Francisco shows that health apps can be hard to use or don’t provide the kind of information patients may be looking for.

UC San Francisco researchers conducted a user study with patients that had conditions ranging from diabetes to depression or had to care for an elderly person. The patients were asked about their experience using the app and the majority voiced frustration with usability. According to a statement on the study from UC San Francisco, the study employed individual sessions with the 26 participants, who each tried three or four different apps that were geared toward their specific health condition.

In almost all cases, the participants were unable to get to a point where they were productively using any of the applications. For example, participants were only able to complete 51 percent of data-entry tasks across all apps. Even more concerning, participants could successfully retrieve data from the same apps less than half the time (43 percent).

“We’ve seen a recent glut of mobile apps that are meant to help people monitor their fitness levels and enhance their health,” said UCSF’s Urmimala Sarkar, MD, associate professor of medicine, who led the study at the Center for Vulnerable Populations at ZSFG. “But many of the patients we see at Zuckerberg San Francisco General – who have serious, and often multiple health problems – don’t appear to be able to use or access this technology. And they’re the ones who have the most to gain from these advances. We need to see more of a focus on designing technology for this population.”