Merlin Steps into the Consumer Sphere with Simple Health App Platform

Ryan Black
AUGUST 10, 2017
value-based care, MACRA, macra sucks, interoperability, population health, philadelphia HIT summit, healthcare analytics news
Speaking at the Philadelphia HIT Summit, Director of Healthcare Strategy for Merlin International Brian Wells wanted to talk solutions. The company, heavily involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government health operations, is looking to branch further into the commercial sphere and improve the experience of patients and physicians alike in the process.

“If we don’t get the patients to be more involved, we’re really not going to bend the cost curve,” he said. He cited studies that found that patients only remember about 14% of information attained in a 7 minute conversation with their doctor. Wells called good patient engagement one of the most important pieces missing from healthcare at the moment, and championed health apps as a way to improve that.

“We want to have the payers involved, we want to have the employers involved, if necessary, the federal government involved, pharma involved if the patient’s in a clinical trial…Not only do we have to get the patient involved, but they have to have an app where they can talk to all these entities at once.”

He says that while the frameworks and devices exist, apps can be prohibitively expensive to build. The base price he quoted was about $200,000, at least, per app, requiring the labor of 10 people or more, and taking 6 months or more. Making a version for both Android and Apple and getting the apps into the associated app stores are further complicating issues.

Merlin’s offering, in response, is a collaboration with Doctella that they call HealthReady, a basic platform to allow physicians to make their own engagement apps within a simple existing framework.

First, the doctor chooses from hundreds of prebuilt “Health Maps,” which are essentially procedural checklists for various health conditions, or situations such as an upcoming surgical procedure. They’re able to customize them, and then “prescribe” a patient (or their family) their unique course within the app. The physician is then able to monitor response and compliance via an app dashboard, and the program consolidates available information across the physicians’ practice for population data analysis.

“There’s some real ROI here,” Wells said, saying the company’s findings were that the app had largely reduced same-day surgery cancellations in facilities that were using it, thanks to better patient compliance to pre-surgery protocol. The numbers were as high as a 58% reduction. Re-admissions after an ER visit within 30 days of a procedure were also down about 50%.

Wells acknowledged that the program does not yet integrate with EMRs, but that Merlin is in the process of making that happen, and that HealthReady is registered in Epic’s App Orchard.

“It’s a powerful tool. It is limited: if you want to do something really fancy that’s going to require that the patient capture some data through some complex device…you may want to hire programmers. If you want to do something straightforward, like prepare for a surgical event, this is a great platform to do it,” Wells said. “You can literally build an app in an hour and publish it.”

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