by Michael Ybarra

The Secret to Kaiser Permanente’s Sustainable Mobile Strategy

Apr 30, 2012 3 mins
Healthcare Industry

Healthcare CIOs know mobile is important to their customers. Phil Fasano, CIO of Kaiser Permanente, took a slow-but-steady mobile approach and is seeing big results since its new site and apps launched.

In the first month that Kaiser Permanente’s new mobile-optimized website was live, received more than 1.9 million hits from smartphones. Considering that slightly less than half of the giant healthcare organization’s 9 million members are registered for its website, CIO Philip Fasano saw the quick adoption as vindication of his slow-but-steady mobile approach.

“A quarter of our users have already jumped on the bandwagon,” he says. “We haven’t had a lot of calls for help yet.”

Fasano says the rollout in January was challenging because the organization required a high level of security, a heavy infrastructure investment, an easy-to-use app and a beefed-up mobile development group. “We’ve been considering mobile capability very carefully for a year and a half,” he says. “Everyone wants to go fast. Our competitors had headlines about launching. I wanted mobile capability, but also a road map for sustaining it. We have a plan to continually add features. Members have an awful lot of expectations.”

The new mobile-optimized site gives users anywhere, anytime access to their medical records, and lets them schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, see test results and email their doctors.

“It’s many of the services they get online,” Fasano says. “All the core features. But we needed to do it conveniently and seamlessly.”

Now that smartphones are a major portal to the Web, CIOs hope to stay ahead of the curve. The global market for health apps skyrocketed last year, growing sevenfold to $718 million, according to AResearch2guidance. Also last year, Kaiser launched its first iPhone app, KP Locator, which helps people find Kaiser facilities and was downloaded 65,000 times.

Kaiser already runs the largest civilian electronic medical records system in the world. Last year, for example, patients accessed 20 million lab results online and sent 12 million secure emails to the group’s 17,000 physicians. Fasano sees mobile as a natural progression of Kaiser’s current model and one that makes things easier for customers. “The stats are clear. Everyone will have a mobile device. People expect these kinds of services,” he says.

When its current mobile-optimized site launched, Kaiser started by offering an Android app (downloaded for free by more than 60,000 users in the first month). The iPhone app took longer to develop, so a shortcut icon was offered in the meantime. “IPhone apps have some very specific requirements,” Fasano says. “For Apple, you have to do more of the work on the phone and provide more services to nonmembers.”

The pilot included testing on 600 executives at Kaiser. “Executives are pretty needy, so it was great to raise all the issues with them,” Fasano says. “I like apps to be intuitive and easy.”

The IT work may be bleeding edge, but Fasano says recruiting top-tier talent for his growing mobile team has been tough.

“That’s been a challenge, finding developers interested in healthcare versus a startup,” he says. “We’ve tried to make ourselves a sexy environment, so people want to work with us.”