There have been many stated roles of professional medical societies, including standardization of care (best practice), promoting public health, and improving leadership in medicine. All of these roles can be facilitated with digital health technologies. Most professional societies are recognizing the benefit to their members of all types of digital tools including mobile apps. One organization founded by the American College of Physicians, interestingly named AmericanEHR describes itself as “…A free online resource designed to aid the medical community with the selection, implementation, and effective use of health information technology and electronic health records. AmericanEHR Partners was founded by the American College of Physicians and Cientis Technologies and is supported by 16 medical societies and five health IT organizations with a combined membership of more than 720,000 clinicians, representing over 65 percent of physicians in the U.S. It does not endorse any electronic health record vendor.” One would naturally question whether this is a veiled targeted trade organization for EHR vendors. But it does highlight two points; Industry recognizes the potential market growth for digital technology via professional societies, and professional societies recognize the importance of digital tools to their members. Professional medical societies can markedly accelerate the adoption of mobile health tools in a number of ways:
- They can develop their own apps. Mobile apps developed by a professional medical society can serve many purposes. Many are already doing this but at a basic level. They can be reference guides, sources of publication highlights, breaking clinical, regulatory or other medical news. The real excitement lies in interactive patient engagement tools. These can potentially facilitate better patient outcomes by incorporating accepted practice guideline recommendations to both provider and patients (see below). Apps can be tailored to communicate specialty quality measures. The simplification of regulatory requirements in digestible and user-experience friendly ways in a mobile app format would be very attractive to providers. They want to do the right thing but also have little time or easy way to understand most of them. This then becomes a win-win situation.
- Support development of digital health technology KOLs. Professional societies already have organizational leadership training initiatives but also need to foster development of what I would call Digital leaders. These are people who can spread the ideals of the organization to not only members but to patients and the public at large via social media. In addition, physicians want to interact in more ways than the traditional annual sessions or regional meetings. These interactions would occur in more personalized ways. It’s time to utilize digital tools in ways other segments of the population do. Digital KOLs are thought leader members who already navigate digital media for professional purposes and understand the landscape of opportunities and barriers to digital health technologies adoption.
- Serve as quality evaluators of mobile apps. A professional medical society acting as an endorser of third-party digital health tools has obvious potential for conflicts of interest. However, this need not be the case. A Society can vet apps with respect to data accuracy and whether they conform to practice guidelines. They can also encourage clinical studies of mobile apps. The time for conference sessions devoted to mobile technologies is here. Peer review evaluation of studies will add credibility to the technology. Reliability and accuracy are among the biggest concerns (as well as privacy and security-see below) of users of medical apps.
- Create patient engagement tools. A natural place for the design and endorsement of patient engagement tools is the group which developed specialty practice guidelines. Ideally one would love to see both a patient-facing app as well as a provider-facing app. The rationale is obvious. The user experience or UX is totally different for the users. The patient app would be designed with sensitivity to health literacy with perhaps even a language translation feature. It would, with simple educational and instructional guides permit patients to more easily navigate their medical journey as their provider would like. Conforming to practice guidelines allows for metrics to be collected and potentially be applied to quality measure programs. This data would be more reliable than other types because it is generated directly from the patient (or caregiver). On the provider side, the tool can simplify the guidelines with easy to convey actionable educational and treatment points.
- Work with regulators to incorporate mobile technologies into reimbursement, quality measure, and population health initiatives. There is an incredible delay between the development of technology and regulatory issues surrounding it (I am not referring to the FDA approval process which is actually relatively short). If this time frame were shortened, then technology could lessen the burden on providers, by integrating mobile data from the patient engagement apps discussed above into the EHR and/or the required data registries.