Healthcare Apps for a Digital Age

Mobile Apps in Healthcare

While most of us are anchored firmly in the digital world, the landscape of hospitals and other healthcare organizations seems rather primitive, often choosing to drown its inhabitants in a sea of paperwork rather than offering them a versatile and adaptive digital interface that provides them with all the information when and where they need it. Here we’ll look at the reasons why the mobile app revolution could transform healthcare – and why the wheels have taken so long to start turning.

Big systems bigger bottlenecks

Most hospitals are now wired into a vast computer system. Yet, despite the presence of so much technology, data entry remains frustratingly backwards. Computer crashes and nurses queuing to get access to the system are just two of the likely bottlenecks. Where doctors and nurses are on the move, they frequently have access to little more than a clipboard and pen. Any notes they make have to be laboriously recopied across into the system – dramatically increasing the chances that mistakes will be introduced into a patient’s details, possibly with life-threatening consequences. For the sake of increasing time and decreasing tedium, errors and bottlenecks, then, it makes sense that healthcare professionals can carry a mobile tablet with them, entering the data directly into the system as they go. It would then be easy to use this extensive data as part of much larger research projects, allowing professionals to create more advanced statistics and information. Much more than that, though, a portable interface would mean that every professional had the entire resources of the hospital system at his or her fingertips.

Whether they want to check a patient’s history, see what they’ve been treated for previously, or look at which medications they’re on, medical staff will be able to pull up the information with a few simple clicks. There’ll be no more relying on incomplete charts, or trying to remember what they may have read on the computer minutes (or even hours) ago. Neither will they need to plague patients with a barrage of questions – never easy given the likely bewilderment and disorientation of the patient (and even their relatives). Doctors can even order medications or check labs reports on the fly. A recent Black Book user poll showed that 83% of professionals would instantly move across to mobile devices for entering in data, ordering meds etc, confirming there is a definite interest in taking up such technology

Mobile technology breaks down walls

Mobile apps provide flexibility, and start to take us away from the idea of healthcare as incarceration in a clinical environment. A doctor visiting a patient in their home will be able to tap straight into hospital records, delving into as much information as they want in order to make a diagnosis. If they require more information, it may only take a few seconds to hook up a quick Skype conversation with a specialist, or somebody at the hospital who has more in-depth knowledge of the patient than they do. And although we’re dealing here more with apps being used within healthcare organisations, there are also practical solutions that will help patients themselves.

Self-diagnosis isn’t necessarily the best idea, but where patients (with the full guidance of their doctor) can use fully-checked and authorized apps to monitor abnormal heart rhythms, levels of glucose, perform ultrasounds etc. then this will relieve the strain on hospitals and cut the costs of providing specific equipment. It’ll also give many patients additional peace of mind, by allowing themselves to check and monitor themselves as they recover from a serious procedure. Research2Guidance state that as many as 500 million patients may be using medical mobile apps by 2015. Even without apps, technology itself will help ease the strain on overworked hospital equipment. For example, as Licensed Prescriptions explain, Autonomic Technologies has created a small electronic gum implant that can stop chronic headaches and migraines in their tracks. MELA Sciences has developed the MelaFind Scanner, a device that detects possible signs of skin cancer. This kind of self-help is bound to become a growth area in the future, and the industry needs to exploit technology sooner rather than later.

So, why the delay?

Healthcare professionals can save lots of time with mobile apps, and can also cut down errors and increase the quality of information available to them. So then, why have mobile apps not swept through hospitals and other institutions, even when introduced? Well, at least some of the blame is down to the design of the apps themselves. Some professionals are given little more than a smartphone. But even on a large-screen tablet, the size of the display is unimpressive – the Apple iPad Retina and Google Nexus 10, for instance, measure just 9.7 and 10 inches respectively. This amount of pixel real estate isn’t great for showing detailed statistics, or for offering lots of different options. In the Black Book user poll quoted earlier, 95% of the respondents said that the small screens were a problem, while 88% said they had problems navigating the interface and moving across charts etc. It’s not enough for healthcare apps to be simply miniature versions of the main computer system used across the hospital. Betting companies, for example, have found that apps for their sites need to be vastly simplified, with fewer immediately available options, and much larger buttons – carefully optimized to take full advantage of touch-sensitivity. Text and figures need to be larger in size. Until healthcare app designers start following the same lines, professionals will continue to find tablets and smartphones difficult and unrewarding to use.

There needs to be greater regulation and standardization surrounding these apps. This isn’t easy, since a variety of different platforms and interfaces can be employed, making the job of creating powerful but intuitive apps that can be understood by everyone, a tricky task. The new review procedures being implemented by the United States Food and Drug Act look like bringing some sanity and consistency to this area, but there’ll still be the matter of how do we keep data confidential when mobile devices can be left lying around, or are easy to steal. But with the mobile health app market estimated to reach $26 billion by 2017, there is a genuine need for organizations to use this opportunity to radically transform healthcare and remold it for the 21st century.

 

This post is written by Eve Pearce who has a Graduation in International Business and Journalism

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