Winnipeg Regional releases multi-purpose app
August 30, 2016
In what its developers liken to opening a virtual mall, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) has launched a new, free iPhone app that provides users with fingertip access to a range of healthcare information, including emergency department wait times.
Called Connected Care, the app was developed by Manitoba eHealth, a provincial government program responsible for providing healthcare delivery transformation through the use of information and communications technology. The app was launched in January.
“Connected Care is our first mobile application,” said Craig Kozlowski, Director and Solution Information Officer, Manitoba eHealth. “I describe it as a virtual shopping mall populated by various information stores. Each store is an information module that we can add easily without having to re-write the underlying application software.”
The app’s current modules include:
- Emergency department and urgent care wait times – allows users to view approximate times in eight Winnipeg emergency department/urgent care locations, and to explore those locations on a map based on the user’s current location.
- Health Services Directory – a comprehensive directory that allows users to search for services based on service type or community area. The directory also allows users to send health service information to a friend or family member and to explore services on a map based on their current location.
- MyRightCare.ca – MyRightCare.ca is designed to help Winnipeggers choose the right care option so they can get the right treatment, faster. (There are about 280,000 visits to Winnipeg’s emergency departments each year. As many as half of those visits are for non-life-threatening conditions that could be treated more efficiently another way.) Assisting people to make the right choice for their care reduces the demand on emergency departments, resulting in more efficient and effective healthcare delivery.
- SignUpForLife.ca – users can register their intent to be an organ donor in just a few clicks.
- Family Doctor Finder – helps connect users and their families with a regular primary care provider who can provide them with a home base for their healthcare needs.
“Our primary goal at Manitoba eHealth is to provide the right information to the right person at the right time in the right place,” said Perry Poulsen, CIO, Manitoba eHealth. “This is a first step for a mobile offering by the WRHA and a respectable showing of Manitoba eHealth’s app development capabilities.”
The WRHA agrees.
“There’s increasing demand in our society for easy access to accurate information through mobile technologies, and this app is a really great start in that direction,” said Madeline Kohut, Community Development and Seniors Specialist for the WRHA.
“Whether the public wants to see emergency department wait times, information about our QuickCare clinic locations, or where there is a breastfeeding group for young mothers, the Connected Care app provides them with great opportunity to explore the information they need,” she added. “And for those who don’t have access to a mobile device or computer, the information is available in other formats to help ensure that everyone has access to information in the way that best work for them.”
Though the app was launched with minimal fanfare, uptake has been impressive, with several thousand downloads in just a few months, said Manitoba eHealth Senior Developer Matthew Sodomsky.
“The WRHA issued a single press release that spawned a number of media stories,” said Sodomsky. “What impressed us after that happened was the number of ‘likes’ those stories generated. Word-of-mouth was quick to spread, and to get that happening organically without the support of advertising speaks to the power of our original concept.”
The number of new users continues to climb, with an average of 100 unique users turning to the app each day.
“It’s relatively easy to get people to download an app and use it once, but to keep them coming back is the real test,” said Sodomsky. “From the outset, we recognized that the public wouldn’t want to download 10 separate apps for 10 different purposes. The central idea behind Connected Care is to offer people the convenience of ‘one-stop shopping’ for a wide variety of their healthcare information needs.”
Kozlowski says that the development leveraged the longstanding relationship between the WRHA and Manitoba eHealth.
“The information available through the app is drawn from a number of existing websites and databases we have managed for the WRHA,” said Kozlowski. “So the requisite equipment and data feeds were already in place in a secure and accessible form, and no additional infrastructure was required. That being the case, we were able to develop the app for what we believe is a fraction of the cost of an outside, commercial developer.”
A more important consideration than cost, however, was accuracy.
“The accuracy and timeliness of the information is paramount,” said Kozlowski. “The accountability has to be there, because people are now using this information to make real-time health decisions. There again, our existing partnership with the WRHA was an advantage; all of our data comes from trusted, accurate sources with the appropriate checks and balances already in place.”
Reaction from clients within the WRHA has been positive. “At its heart, Connected Care is a public-facing app, but we get just as much positive feedback from people working within the WRHA as we do from the public,” said Kozlowski. “We’ve kept it simple, so it helps the public and staff quickly navigate the information they want with a minimum of effort. The reason it’s receiving such good feedback is that it’s delivering on that value proposition.”
With the app off to a fast start, and with internal and public users expressing satisfaction with its ease of use, the future for Connected Care is bright, said Kozlowski.
“It’s just not the information that’s available today, but what it can be added in the future. As we expand the app with additional modules offering new types of information the public wants to see, the value proposition is only going to grow.”
Mike Daly is a Communications Specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.