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Embracing technology: “Platforms” in healthcare


In technology, a platform refers to the underpinning systems and operations that allow multiple products, events, services, vendors, applications and/or technologies to work together. Each platform’s building blocks or services, used in many products, provide a standardized experience for the consumer.

One of the earliest successes in shared platforms was Microsoft Windows. The operating system allowed many developers to use the same services, which worked the same for each application. Windows built in many of the aspects necessary to run a software application so that each vendor did not have to write them separately; meanwhile, users only had to learn one interface.

Beyond the user interface, Microsoft built services such as printing functions and connections to other devices and networks. These would otherwise have been handled by each software application, with each working differently for the end user.

Many companies have since modeled their own platforms similarly.

Why platforms have become prevalent in healthcare

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have all built services and products based on their own platforms.

Healthcare needs platforms, too. At large academic medical systems, individual applications used to be written in-house, often designed by physicians. While these individual applications did a lot of things very well, they did not integrate data for a smooth workflow or useful analytics, nor were they combined with a single user interface. As they did not share building blocks or underlying services, these applications were individually difficult to maintain and secure. The final blow to these systems was the federal Meaningful Use program. The MU program required standardized systems that had to be updated regularly to meet new requirements.

The largest electronic medical records vendors recognized a need and began to model themselves as platforms. They’ve built whole groups of applications that run everything from the lab to the pharmacy, billing and admissions, long-term care and home care. These applications share one set of underlying services, a single user interface and a single data structure to secure and update.

These vendors are now beginning to truly become “platforms” as I’ve defined them here by adding app stores within their systems. Just like with Windows or the iPhone, these apps will theoretically use all of the existing tools and integrations but add additional functionality not currently included with the EHR.

Platforms are now critical to care delivery and the patient experience

Consumers don’t want to download or learn to use multiple apps, so healthcare systems now are adding mobile apps for the patient that roll many services into one, including wayfinding, scheduling, EHR data downloading and uploading, fitness tracking and telehealth. These comprehensive apps provide a seamless user experience – and if your patient is already using some of your services, the more seamless it gets, the more that makes the customer want to use your services for everything (just like why I buy so much on Amazon, because it’s so easy).

Vendors are developing and selling platforms in every category, including:

  • telehealth/virtual health platforms;
  • cybersecurity platforms;
  • biomedical device tracking, maintenance and security platforms;
  • data integration and interfacing platforms; and
  • EHR platforms (the big three are now including what are essentially app stores).

The impact of platforms for patients and providers

As healthcare organizations look at new products and vendors, they must consider how they will interact with other tools in use. Are patients being presented with tools that share a single user experience? As patients’ interactions with their providers increasingly take place online, their experiences with providers’ platforms will greatly influence their likelihood to return for future healthcare needs.

Platforms have the opportunity to improve internal operations, as well. Harvard Business Review’s article “Bringing the Power of Platforms to Healthcare” identified three areas that are ripe for transformation through the use of platforms: Administrative automation, networked knowledge and resource orchestration. Much of this transformation is now underway, but there is more work to be done.

Providers who embrace platforms have the opportunity to drive better patient experiences and make operations more efficient. That’s something everyone can get behind.