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Mobile results: improving patient care from your phone

November 22, 2011

With the NHS’s continuing battle with restricted budgets and ongoing quest to improve patient care and outcomes, the UK’s national healthcare system should look to developments in mobile health care technologies to take us into the future.

M-Health developments have already changed the way doctors in the U.S. and Canada communicate and manage patient data and care, simplifying complexities within the hospital and post-care in the process. From a tablet, iPhone or Android-based device, doctors can diagnose diseases, share lab results, monitor patients, and explain treatments more effectively and efficiently. In Canada, ResolutionMD Mobile (developed from the desktop application by the Mayo Clinic) has become the first radiology product on an iPad. Doctors can make a diagnosis by viewing patient images and medical documents remotely, thus expediting care. Phone applications have also been developed to monitor patients’ statuses remotely, reducing hospitalisation and allowing patients to move quicker into homecare. These m-Health applications have also proved beneficial for patients with heart problems. GE Healthcare and AirStrip Technologies created an app which enables cardiologists to remotely monitor (in real-time) a patient’s ECG levels and allowing them to detect early issues without the patient having to visit the hospital.

Innovative m-Health developments are also extended to the patients themselves. The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Informed Patient’ blog recently reported on an idea from the U.S. which allows patients to have direct access to lab results and track personal healthcare markers with their phone. The Gazelle mobile app for Android devices enables patients to manage their medical information, results, prescriptions and vital statistics, as well as emergency contacts and appointment scheduling, an innovation which has set a new benchmark for technological m-Health achievements.

The NHS, however, remains at the periphery of such technology. Contrary to developments in the United States and Canada, NHS m-Health innovations are minimal and provide only general information to patients. The NHS Direct mobile app, launched in June 2011, enables users to assess their symptoms and offers self-care advice, with direct links to the telephone service if they require further recommendations. Additionally, local Trusts have developed mobile apps to provide patients with hospital and clinic information in their area. In 2010, NHS Bristol developed a mobile app in partnership with a local company to offer patients information on every health service available in the city, as well as appointment reminders and emergency contact information. The app was the first of its kind in the U.K., however, has yet to be applied in other local Trusts.

Despite few Trusts adopting m-Health advancements which effectively address the issues they are currently facing, those that have were able to improve operations and communications within their organisation. To reduce the administration and patient paperwork involved in its acute services, particularly with home care, midwives and nurses, Portsmouth Hospital developed an app which replaced traditional note taking with an electronic version. In conjunction with Blackberry, the app was launched in 2010 and enables community nurses and midwives to take electronic notes when on patient visits. The digital notes are then securely transferred to the patient record system at the hospital, erasing the double entry of information. The app halved the amount of time midwives and nurses spent on administration, saving the Trust an estimated £220,000 annually.

Mobile technology is not costly, and apps are being routinely developed across most business sectors which help people with every day tasks and improve organisational efficiency. As the NHS undergoes continued scrutiny for waiting times and poor patient care, simple mobile apps, such as ones which allow doctors to access their patients’ medical data, would enable hospitals and Trusts to place their focus back on the patient, giving them more freedom and control of their care.

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