December 1, 2011

GHRI leads initial evaluation of Mobile MyGroupHealth

“Our research on Web-based care shows that patients most value tools like accessing their medical records and secure messaging for collaborating with clinicians,” says Dr. Ralston, a Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) associate investigator who leads Group Health’s research on health information technology. “So Group Health decided its app should offer patients those features, including after-visit summaries.” It also offers maps to Group Health Medical Centers and current  wait times at labs and pharmacies, so if one Group Health lab or pharmacy is too busy, patients can opt for another. Soon they will also be able to order drug refills using the phone app, which Dr. Ralston’s research has shown is another popular feature of MyGroupHealth.

Group Health launched Mobile MyGroupHealth for the iPhone in July, followed by an Android app in October. Supported by a one-year grant from the GHRI Development Fund, a research team led by Dr. Ralston is now evaluating how well it meets patients’ needs.

The team plans to measure and describe the first four months of Mobile MyGroupHealth use. The first step is to develop metrics for measuring use. The mobile app generates data logs that dwarf our usual data sources for  research in size and complexity, so GHRI Programmer/Analyst Luesa Jordan  is working with Colby Voorhees and Glen Kriekenbeck of the MyGroupHealth team to determine which data are most useful in understanding members’ use. Such metrics will be critical for doing more in-depth research and determining whether the app is meeting Group Health’s strategic business goals.

Another key goal of the project is to assess users’ expectations and needs for mobile support as they get care in the Group Health’s patient-centered medical home. GHRI Research Associate James Tufano, PhD, MHA, is interviewing 16 patients. Eight are early adopters of the iPhone app. Another eight—young  mothers who are Medicaid beneficiaries in Spokane—may  help the team learn if mobile devices might address the “digital divide.”  Research has shown, for example, that African Americans and Medicaid enrollees are much less likely to use such websites as MyGroupHealth and Compared to whites, however, African Americans are nearly twice as likely to  use mobile health apps on smartphones and 70 percent more likely to access the Web using such phones.

The team will also conduct two focus groups with the early adopters and one with the Medicaid patients to clarify and expand on interview findings.

Dr. Ralston says this study will be the first to determine how well a mobile app meets the needs of traditionally underserved population within an integrated system that already engages patients online.

By Joan DeClaire