How can an App Improve Patient Care

I often get asked, how can an app improve patient care? I find it hard to answer, not because they can’t improve patient care, but that there are infinite ways they can. It’s important to remember an app is not the entire solution, it is part of a complete care package. In no way does building an app by itself improve patient care, it is how that app supports the rest of the care the patient receives that is important. An app may not even be part of the solution, it may even cause further problems. For example, some people may not have a smartphone or an iPad, or may find it easier to use pen and paper.

Progress

As a healthcare practitioner, and in consultation with your clients, only you can decide if an app is worth being part of the care of your patient. You need to ask, ‘How can an app improve my patients’ care?’.

In 2010, Apple was awarded a trademark for the phrase, ‘There’s an App for that’.
The following year, the word ‘app’ was named word of the year by the American Dialect Society.

In the past, app development has lagged in the healthcare space, but is now an emerging trend. The number of health apps published on the two leading platforms, iOS and Android, has more than doubled in the past two-and-a-half years.

The majority of these apps target chronically ill patients and health and fitness and, tend to be owned by developers or commercial organisations, not hospitals or healthcare practitioners. However, in my view, it is best if health information comes directly from a patient’s caregiver. The reasons will soon become clear.

Example

Let me tell you a story. I’ll start by introducing you to Kate:

Kate is a nurse and is on her way out to visit Peter, a young farmer who is dying of cancer and lives a ninety-minute drive away. Due to lack of time and staff, Kate can only visit Peter once a month.

Kate is taking some brochures with her about pain control, but she knows they are out of date. She is waiting for new ones from the printer.

When she arrives, Peter tells her he has been googling options for pain relief; but Kate discovers the information he has sourced may do him more harm than good. He has found an over the counter drug that, when taken with his current medication, could cause kidney failure.

Kate also discovers that Peter has had severe pain for ten days. When asked why he didn’t call, he says he didn’t want to bother Kate; he knew she would be here this week.

Kate knows Peter deserves better care, leading her to experience that awful, pervasive feeling that she is not providing the best care for him.

Similar stories are prevalent throughout the healthcare sector. Patients, carers and healthcare professionals all feel the frustrations identified above, including:

  • Lack of resources
  • Incorrect information being sourced by the patient/carer
  • Delayed treatment.

Solve all your frustrations with an app

As late as the 1990s or 2000s, there was no realistic solution to these frustrations, other than providing more manpower. But with my experience in both technology and health, I know it is now possible to help solve every single one of these frustrations…with an app. An app can provide correct information, real-time feedback, videos, emergency help buttons, and clear lines of communication.

Looking at Peter and Kate’s situation, an app that had the correct information about pain control would have enabled Peter to source and try different options to help relieve his pain, giving him control, without the risk of sourcing incorrect information.

This same app could allow Peter to enter his level of pain each day, with functionality that automatically alerts Kate if his pain reaches a certain level. Kate could then follow up with a phone call, providing further guidance to relieve his pain. This would ensure:

  • Better use of resources
  • Correct information
  • Treatment advice being given when needed.

Apps contain vital information in one easily accessible spot

When a healthcare worker offers an app to a specific target group, it ensures the correct information is available to that group when it’s needed. In addition, apps can gather all the vital information a patient might need in one easily accessible spot. An example of this is an app Make it APPen recently created. This app, BeatPain, was the brain child of Angela Hawkes, an Occupational Therapist who put together, into an app, a rehabilitation program for people with chronic pain, that steps them through a week by week project.

Most people have their smartphone or tablet near them at all times—the typical user accesses his or her phone an average of 150 times each day. By having an app such as BeatPain on their device, the user can access information if, or when, they require it, without having to search online or find that sheet of paper they know they have put ‘somewhere’.

Reliance on healthcare professionals to provide apps

As users of smartphones and tablets become more accustomed to finding the information they need on their devices, they will increasingly rely on healthcare professionals to provide them with an app. So, is it time for you to ask yourself, how can an app improve patient care for my clients?

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