Data Integration App Solving Rural Health Disparities

Saxony Created a Healthcare Data App – Could It Be Used to Address Rural Health Disparities?

Customized, secure applications can solve healthcare’s data integration issues. Can they also be used to address a persistent health disparity?

Healthcare, as an industry, has been historically slow to adapt to emerging technology.

Yes, Electronic Medical Records are proliferating, but providers, payers, suppliers, and pharma companies are still mired in inefficiencies,slowed by manual and redundant processes, and unable to leverage data to drive decision-making. That last issue is particularly concerning, as data-focused innovations like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence could be especially helpful in solving healthcare delivery and accessibility issues.

The inability to leverage data is a direct result of the inability to aggregate data into a single source of truth. And while there are legitimate questions and concerns around data privacy and maintaining HIPAA compliance, it is now possible for sensitive healthcare information to be collected from multiple sources, fed into a central, secure, and HIPAA-compliant database, and filtered through applications that can make that information actionable.

At Saxony, we know this because we have created these systems and applications for our healthcare clients. These projects align with our mission – to help healthcare organizations do more with their data by leveraging technology to improve outcomes, reduce waste and inefficiency, and drive performance.

Let’s examine a recent project our team led for a large healthcare client – a mobile application that captures and integrates patient data (while remaining HIPAA compliant), improves care accessibility, addresses a serious health disparity, and improves the experience of both the care provider and the patient.

Creating an Application

Our client employs medical professionals who visit patients in their homes – recording vital signs and biometrics and providing needed services and care. Saxony was asked to create a custom, mobile application to facilitate this work. The catch? This app had to work just as well offline as online.

Gabriel Biobaku, a business transformation and delivery manager at Saxony, led the project team.

A early screenshot from the healthcare application Saxony built.

A early screenshot from the healthcare application Saxony built.

“The end users of that application would go into the field to provide services to clients,” Biobaku said. “More often than not, they were going into areas where you do not have any connection, no mobile network access. In those cases, they’d have to write down what they did, medications administered, patient notes, and so forth. The client wanted us to build a mobile app that could record all of this digitally at the point of care, regardless of connectivity.”

Then, once the end user returned to an area with network or WiFi connectivity, the captured information could be synced with a central database.

The need for such an application is not uncommon in the broad healthcare sector. Biobaku’s brother is a doctor, and he frequently finds himself providing care for patients in areas where connectivity is spotty.

“Network coverage should not be a restriction on medical services,” Biobaku said. “For someone like my brother, who’s going into areas where there’s no service, we could customize this app explicitly based on his needs – or his employer’s needs.”

Biobaku and the Saxony team began by building the application in Xamarin, a coding language that allows you to build one tool which can then be deployed across a variety of operating systems – including iOS, Android, and Windows.

The app was constructed with the capability to load and scan documents and PDFs while offline. Information previously recorded on a particular patient could be queued up while connected to a network and displayed offline when needed. Other key deliverables – high-volume data transfer capabilities, database encryption, task notifications, and long-press functionality – were also included. All of the information contained within the app was secure and HIPAA-compliant.

The Saxony team offered fingerprint identification, advanced data sync, and certificate pinning capabilities – but these were not requested by the client.

The Implications for Rural Health Disparities

What seems like a pretty straightforward project has significant value beyond the needs of this specific client.

There's a connection between lack of broadband availability and poor health outcomes.

This map from the FCC identifies “double burden” counties (shaded purple) where rural broadband access is less than 50%, and physician shortages are most acute.

First, there are the deliverables that make life and business easier. We’re talking about improved efficiency, because remote workers no longer have to record information by hand and re-record it once they return to network coverage. We’re talking about fewer risks related to data integrity, because re-recording information means there’s twice as many opportunities to make mistakes. We’re talking about improved customer experience, because of the seamless operation of the app. And finally, we’re talking about how offline functionality addresses a disparity that has long plagued people living in less-connected areas of the country.

Lack of network and broadband connectivity is a serious issue for those living between the coastal regions of the United States. In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission published a report showing the relationship between Internet connectivity and health outcomes. The agency overlaid maps highlighting poor network connectivity with maps that delineating the areas of the country with the worst health outcomes. The correlation between the two was unmistakable.

Areas where rural broadband access is less than 50 percent tend to also have the most acute shortages of physicians. Therefore, more healthcare workers will have to be deployed into the field to serve these populations – further underscoring the value of an offline/online app.

Solving Healthcare Problems

Second, there exists the potential for deliverables that reflect the future impact of leading-edge technology. An application similar to the one that Saxony delivered to this client can be further augmented with artificial intelligence and/or data analytics tools.

“If you’re administering care on-site for a patient and that patient has a new symptom, then you could leverage an AI or machine learning tool to analyze that symptom in context with historical patient data,” said Alan Stein, Vice President of Saxony’s Healthcare practice. “That could be used to come up with a potential diagnosis or identify risk factors. You could rank causes of symptoms using AI, or you could integrate apps that help determine the course of care.”

This future is not far-fetched. In August 2019, a group of technology experts from the Saxony Healthcare team took home the top prize at the annual Texas Healthcare Challenge, presented by the Texas Wildcatters. The team of Yasir Bashir, Pitts Pichetsurnthorn, and Justin Steele focused their winning pitch on remote patient monitoring, including the leveraging of wearable technology (Apple watches, Fitbits, etc.).

These gadgets generate mountains of data, which could be made actionable with AI and data analytics tools. Such tools could easily be incorporated into Saxony’s mobile application.

“The grand prize from the Texas Healthcare Challenge was a $120,000-worth of Cloud credits from IBM Watson,” Stein said. “We’re going to parlay those credits into some deeper experimentation with healthcare AI.

“What we pitched at THCC was the practical benefit of combining the remote device and remote clinician. Because it’s usually not an M.D. that’s doing these remote visits – it’s probably a nurse or a medical tech. So, this app would be taking the data from an on-site evaluation and using AI to draw helpful conclusions based on historical data. And that would make on-site care much more effective.”

Even without AI and/or machine learning capabilities, the value of an application that gives you a structured way to document things while offline is undeniable.

“If you offer this technology on a personalized and customized scale, based on client needs, it would be very valuable,” Biobaku said. “It could be applicable for any and every healthcare client.”