SMART Applications and Digital Health Interoperability in Healthcare

The past decade has seen a sharp increase in digital health developments, and today’s market offers a plethora of digital health tools. Users have the capability to do everything from remote monitoring of patients to inpatient education to clinical decision support right at their fingertips. But as with any innovation, these tools bring both benefits and challenges. 

Tools that provide patient education and engagement should not require a large lift to keep up to date. Tools that facilitate easier staff and physician communication should not necessitate endless or cumbersome navigation between applications.

For digital health tools to be a part of the clinical ecosystem in a meaningful way, they must help and not hinder. Effective digital health tools must:

  • Integrate seamlessly into existing workflows
  • Encourage interoperability between systems
  • Increase efficiency in the healthcare setting

Let’s take a closer look at one particular digital innovation that has helped bridge the gap between all of these requirements: SMART® Applications (SMART Apps).

What are SMART Apps?

Designed to improve clinical efficiency through technology, Substitutable Medical Apps and Reusable Technology (SMART) Applications operate in the context of an electronic health record (EHR), allowing third-party apps to be embedded within the EHR safely and securely. 

Such integration allows for GetWellNetwork technology to be surfaced right within an EHR. A clinician navigating particular EHRs can surface GetWell Loop or GetWellNetwork educational offerings right in the patient’s chart. 

The integrations are designed to embed GetWellNetwork capabilities directly into EHR clinical charts and inboxes to provide clinicians and consumers with a single digital framework. This brings convenience and accessibility to the clinician workflow — and empowerment to the patient.

Why is interoperability important in the healthcare industry?

Advanced technological capabilities like SMART Apps have become increasingly important in the healthcare industry. In addition to the functionalities they bring to an EHR, SMART Apps and other similar innovations bring with them the promise of interoperability, a crucial piece to any modern healthcare puzzle.

HIMSS defines interoperability as “the ability of different information systems, devices and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally.”

Put simply, a framework of interoperability allows systems, devices, and applications to coordinate and talk to each other, regardless of which entity developed, purchased, or is operating the systems, devices, and applications in question. 

Why is this technological intercommunication so important? It’s not the dialogue that’s key, so much as what it leads to. A Becker’s Health IT article lists the main benefits of interoperability in healthcare today as being:

  1. Improved care coordination and patient experiences
  2. Greater patient safety
  3. Stronger privacy and security for patients
  4. Higher productivity and reduced healthcare costs
  5. More accurate public health data

By enabling seamless intercommunication, healthcare technology providers can help elevate the patient experience, removing the barrier of cumbersome technology from human interactions while retaining all the best parts about digital innovations. 

What are the benefits of SMART Apps?

As mentioned, SMART Apps enables third-party apps to be embedded within the EHR safely and securely. Because these third-party apps fit seamlessly into existing workflows, clinicians — and, subsequently, patients — stand to benefit a great deal. This means:

  • Fewer logins to track: With single-sign-on access to digital health tools within an EHR, clinicians can log in once and remain within the workflow with which they are familiar without having to juggle multiple sets of credentials.
  • Improved clinician efficiency: Clinicians can automatically launch and access context-specific functionalities directly within their native workflows, without toggling between multiple applications.
  • Updated offerings: Organizations can keep education up to date with a cloud-based library, which minimizes the lift needed to build and maintain a separate education catalog.

The accessibility, efficiency, and currentness of offerings enabled by SMART Apps allow staff and providers to interact with valuable third-party digital health tools as though they were an integral part of the native EHR ecosystem. This in turn means a better experience for everyone involved.

The bottom line

Interoperability is key in healthcare, serving as a way to enforce privacy and security while improving the end-user experience. SMART Apps, a more-than-decade-old concept, have brought interoperability to third-party apps, allowing them to be integrated seamlessly into the EHR ecosystem for the benefit of patients and providers alike.