You catch a plane, you download the app. You book a hotel, you download the app. You go to the cinema, you download the app. You fall ill, you call the doctor. “Please hold the line while we try to connect you…”

Smartphones have become a way of life. In developed countries, more than two thirds of the adult population have one and we now use mobile phones & tablets more than traditional computers to access the web.

In these circumstances “mobile first” has become the mantra of digital communication. When thinking of our patients, we need to imagine first how to communicate via mobile and only afterwards via traditional PC.

If we accept the mobile first principle for our health centre, how should we apply it? Is a web portal that works on mobile “good enough” – or should we be providing patients with a dedicated app to download?

What interactive services do my patients want?

In the early days of the internet, digital communication was focussed on presenting services. Today the emphasis has shifted to interactive functionalities that keep clients loyal, happy and informed.

The most common requests from patients can be grouped in four categories: appointment management, service updates, dialogue and access to records.

Appointment management covers:

  • Appointment booking
  • Appointment directions
  • Appointment instructions
  • Appointment flashcode check-in
  • Appointment re-scheduling or cancellation
  • Appointment payment
  • New appointment due notifications

Service information includes:

  • Last minute availabilities
  • Service running late alerts
  • Replacement doctor alerts
  • Local transport news
  • Test results available

Dialogue can be:

  • Live video visits with a medical specialist
  • Direct messaging between the patient and your center
  • Secure direct messaging between patient and doctor
  • Feedback and outcome surveys

Online records include:

  • Bills
  • Test results
  • Appointment history

Smartphone App versus Web Portal

A “responsive” web portal is a portal that displays equally well on mobile and traditional devices.

A smartphone app is downloaded and installed on the users phone or tablet.

So how do they shape up for providing patient services?

Ease of Access

For a first visit to a web portal, the patient navigates on their smartphone browser or clicks on a link in an SMS and logs in.

For a first visit to a smartphone app, the patient clicks on a link in an SMS, downloads the app, clicks on the link on their dashboard and logs in.

For return visits to a web portal, the patient navigates again. (Theoretically they can add a dashboard link to a portal, but in practice they rarely do).

The smartphone app user clicks on their dashboard link and is logged in directly.

Verdict

  • For the first access: equal
  • For return visits: advantage to the app.

Functionality

Web portals and smartphone apps can provide almost identical functionality.

Verdict

Equal

Offline Access

Web portals require an internet connection.
Apps can be accessed offline for some services.

Verdict

For services such as patient records, advantage to the app.

Cost

Maintaining a dedicated smartphone app will typically cost from 200€ a month.

Verdict

Advantage web portal

Conclusion: Smartphone App or Web Portal?

Web Portal: Cost effective starting point

A Web Portal is perfectly adequate for providing interactive services:

  • if your budget is limited or
  • you only deal with patients who visit you on a single occasion

Smartphone App: Best for long term relationships

For establishing long term relationships with patients, smartphone applications are clearly advantageous.

Studies show that 86% of the time spent on smartphones is spent inside dedicated apps and only 14% on the web.

Apps are native to the mobile experience: your presence on the dashboard establishes a permanent link with your patients. And it may be advisable to occupy that spot before a competitor does.