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Smartphone Apps Bolster Patient Engagement

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, December 14, 2011

Many hospitals were quick to develop smartphone apps as soon as the technology became available, with ED wait-time apps and other obvious uses. Now that the app market has matured, it's time for healthcare organizations to think about more specialized content that will resonate with a target group of consumers.

Mercy Health System in Philadelphia created a highly targeted app three months ago for its bariatrics program. The app allows users to upload a photo of themselves and change their body image with a stroke of a finger to view what they might look like after weight-loss surgery.

Since the app went live it has been downloaded nearly 1,300 times and used by consumers nearly 4,000 times. The app also includes useful content on bariatric surgery and inspiring testimonials with before and after photos. Consumers can even use the app to request a physician consult—as many have.

Target a specific patient group

 "I do not believe any hospital organization 'needs' an app, but it is a progressive way to reach new audiences if the hospital wishes to engage the community and test effectiveness," says Gabrielle DeTora, a healthcare marketing consultant who serves as interim chief marketing officer for Mercy. "That said, the number of smartphone users grew to over 140 million people in the U.S. in 2011. Mobile-friendly websites, call-to-actions, and easy mobile conversion methods are a necessity. If you choose to use an app, ensure your target group is one for which this is an appropriate means of engagement."

DeTora knew the target audience for bariatric surgery was highly social online. Launching an app was a way to test the medium and build consumer engagement. It also garnered a good amount of media attention, such as a report on the local NBC television station.

Track, analyze, and assess

Mercy can track how many patients it gained as a direct result of the app. "Not many, but more than enough in net revenue to cover the cost of the app," DeTora says.

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