According to a recent survey from Black Book Rankings, demand for mobile EHR, or electronic health record, solutions is extremely high, with 83% of surveyed physicians stating that they would use mobile EHR apps if more options became available. The survey found that only 8% of physicians currently use a mobile device for EHR functions, indicating significant market potential for new mobile EHR apps.
However, only three of Black Book's top 10 ranked EHR mobile applications -- Greenway's PrimeMOBILE, NextGen's EHR Mobile and Cerner's (NASDAQ:CERN) customized EHR apps -- are developed by publicly traded companies.
The challenges of developing mobile EHR solutions
Unlike mobile apps from retailers, EHR companies cannot simply repackage a website as an app and release it. Mobile EHR apps must be built from the ground up since tablets are not optimized to include all the powerful features that the desktop version has. Tablets have smaller displays and less processing power, rely on slower wireless connections, and require optimized graphical user interface designs for touchscreens.
Yet tablets have their own strengths, such as unparalleled mobility, built-in cameras, and microphones for speech recognition. To tap into these features, companies have to approach tablets as a completely new platform to create exclusive mobile features.
The appeal of going native
According to a survey from Manhattan Research, 72% of physicians are using an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad, making it the main piece of hardware to watch in the EHR space.
The iPad's greatest advantage over Android competitors is that each generation has identical hardware and software, meaning that apps can be easily tested and developed for the platform. By comparison, the Android tablet market is fragmented, with multiple vendors creating a plethora of hardware combinations -- making it difficult for app developers to create a single app that works flawlessly across all platforms and configurations.
This has led to more demand for native iPad EHR apps, such as drchrono, which was completely designed with the iPad in mind. Other non-native apps, in contrast, focus on using the iPad as an extension of the desktop-based EHR, acting as a "second screen." By cutting out the desktop completely and relying on cloud-based synchronization instead, native iPad EHR apps -- of which there are currently only a handful -- could give physicians unparalleled freedom and mobility. Merely using three iPads could also replace a computer on wheels at a hospital and save more than $6,000, according to CareCloud's Ahmed Mori.
Cerner and Nuance's intertwined businesses
Of a mobile EHR app's features, speech recognition is considered to be of paramount importance, since a physician's hands are often needed elsewhere. In February, M*Modal and Intermountain Healthcare announced their collaboration on the industry's first speech-enabled computerized physician order entry, or CPOE, device for iOS devices.
However, a larger partnership that has attracted more attention is the one between Cerner and Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN), the primary creator of Apple's Siri personal assistant. Last October, Cerner announced that it would embed Nuance's cloud-based medical voice-recognition technology into all of its mobile EHR products.
In addition to this collaboration in voice-recognition technologies, Cerner has also incorporated Nuance's clinical documentation improvement, or CDI, technology into its EHR services to improve the quality and accuracy of its clinical data. Updated CDI technology has become a top priority for many EHR companies upgrading to ICD-10-CM, a standardized classification system for diseases that companies are required to comply with by October 2014. Nuance has also integrated its iPad radiology reporting suite, PowerScribe 360, into Cerner's RadNet radiology information system.
Therefore, Cerner's increasingly close relationship with Nuance will be a key one to watch for new speech-recognition features in mobile EHR apps.
The Foolish takeaway
In addition to Apple, Cerner, and Nuance, investors should also be paying attention to Greenway, NextGen, Allscripts, and General Electric, which all offer mobile EHR apps. These apps could increase the accuracy and efficiency of practices, and revolutionize the health care IT industry in the near future.