It’s the last blog (before the final paper)! *Does a happy dance.* For this final assignment, we will be talking about mobile applications. The question we were asked was…
“How can mobile applications be useful in primary care?”
We were tasked to propose an app idea for a primary health care scenario, and the app must not duplicate any application already available in the market.
Primary care, as defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians (n.d.), is “that care provided by physicians specifically trained for and skilled in comprehensive first contact and continuing care for persons with any undiagnosed sign, symptom, or health concern not limited by problem origin, organ system, or diagnosis. [It] includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses in a variety of health care settings (e.g., office, inpatient, critical care, long-term care, home care, day care, etc.).”
Mobile health or mHealth, on the other hand, is the use of mobile technology applications for healthcare (Qiang, et. al, 2012). It is a new and developing field with lots of untapped potential. The use of mobile phones has significantly skyrocketed starting the 2000s. Currently, there is an estimated 4.77 billion mobile phone users in the world (Statista, n.d.). Mobile phones have evolved from simply being a handy telephone to a more sophisticated device that can function similar to computers. It has allowed people easier access not only to their family, friends, or network of people but it has also afforded access to information that previously would have taken much effort to gather. It has shrunk the world (in a good way), and now information is at our fingertips.
How, then, can mobile phones improve the delivery of primary health care? For one, it has facilitated easier communication between healthcare professionals and patients. There are now more options on how to communicate, from email to call to messages. There are even applications on smartphones that allow free video calls, voice calls, or messages as long as a person has an internet connection. Many models of mobile phones are likewise equipped with cameras, which can be useful for documenting external conditions (e.g. skin problems). The messages can also be readily shared via several means. Aside from traditional uses, many applications have already been developed to aid in the collection and processing of health information. For example, iPhones have a built-in health app that could collect and monitor several health data. Data collection and analysis can be further enhanced by connecting it to other applications that supports the Apple Health App. These types of applications help in empowering patients to be more in charge of their health. On the other hand, healthcare professionals also benefit significantly from the use of mobile phones in healthcare. The same way patients gain increased access to information, so do the doctors. Knowledge from various sources like journals, clinical practice guidelines, etc. are now easier to get a hold of. Thousands of apps which enhance patient care are also present in the market. The CDC, for example, has applications on STDs, vaccination, and travel medicine which can help a healthcare professional make evidence-based decisions. Another advantage of mHealth is that it can reduce the cost of healthcare. By improving means of communication between HCP and patient, personal or face-to-face consultations can be reduced. A patient who needs monitoring may no longer need to be seen personally at frequent intervals if the monitoring can be done remotely. Continuity of care can also be enhanced by mHealth, because coordination of efforts among different providers can be done with mHealth. Better record-keeping is also made possible with mHealth, an advantage that is common with electronic processing systems. There are several other advantages of mHealth but the bottomline is better access and better delivery of health.
Like electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs), however, there are still many challenges when it comes to the use of mHealth. Since mHealth is a relatively young field, there are limited studies on their efficiency. Privacy issues are also present. Accountability and ownership of data is also an issue, especially since unlike EMRs and EHRs, mHealth is more accessible to patients. Standards and interoperability issues are also present, since mobile applications are not always interoperable and there are few standards on their creation and use. Nonetheless, there is much promise in this rapidly growing field. mHealth has much potential in terms of further improving the access and delivery to healthcare.
If I were to create an application for primary healthcare, I would develop something for my company’s use. I think that one of the best things about my company is the value we put on the health and safety of our employees. Aside from the primary care I deliver (with the clinic consultations), various health and wellness programs are in place that are either global initiatives or local initiatives. From what I know, developing an app for the company was already considered previously. However, it hasn’t been realized due to several concerns, particularly privacy and security of data that crosses transnational borders. But if I were to design the app and it would focus on health, it would have the following features:
- Contains all medical and wellness offerings
- Option to schedule a consultation with available doctors (there are currently 3 in the company)
- Option to schedule laboratory testing (since this is a service we can offer where employees can have some laboratory tests done in our own clinic)
- Periodic medical examination (separate for employees and expatriates)
- Partner clinics
- Results – to be reflected in app once they are available
- Employee assistance program
- Description/details of this employee benefit
- Information on how to get in touch with the counselors
- Calendar of vaccine offerings for the year
- Information about the vaccines (locally adapted version of the Vaccine Information Statement from the CDC)
- Guidelines – on how to sign-up, price, etc.
- Wellness offerings
- A calendar of activities to give an overview of the offerings
- Description of the offerings, including the vendor or service provider we partnered with for the wellness offering
- Sign-up option for activities
- Employees should be able to give feedback on the offerings clinic services and wellness offerings, as well as have the option to suggest activities which they would want us to offer
The idea is that the application will integrate all the services of the health and medical team, from the clinic services to all other health and wellness offerings. The mobile app should make it easier for employees to avail of the services, and more importantly to participate in health and wellness offerings. Features like notifications for new activities, sign-up options, or reminders for due vaccinations will be part of the app. Ideally, the app should also be integrated to the EMR that we are currently using so that there are programs we can tailor fit to employees. For example, patients who are overweight may be targeted for our weight-loss initiatives, from learning sessions to gym memberships to in-house weight management activities. We also have a corporate program that include reporting of stress, and employees who scored high on those could be target for the stress-related initiatives that we have. The application should be able to generate reports, which we can then use to help evaluate how effective our activities are and give us an idea of the overall health of our employees.
That is it for the last blog and assignment! What do you think? If you are working in a company, is the type of application I’m proposing (of course it has to be catered with what your company offers) attractive to you? Is it something that you’d use? As always, let me know in the comments below!
- Primary Care as defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians
- Mobile Applications for the Health Sector by Qiang et. al (2012)
- Number of mobile phone users worldwide from 2013 to 2019 (in billions) from Statista (n.d.)