Would you believe that a text message or a smartphone app could help your patients to better manage a chronic illness, or even stay out of the emergency room? Well, the rapid rise of mHealth is promising to do just that.
Mobile health can be defined as any type of medical or health-oriented service that is delivered wirelessly via a mobile device like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Some people might broaden that definition to include video conferencing and remote patient monitoring, while others might prefer a more narrow interpretation that refers only to mobile health apps.
Regardless of how strictly you define it, mHealth has benefits for both patients and providers alike. Unlike EMR initiatives, which can sometimes be unpopular among nurses because they disrupt familiar workflows and routines, mHealth initiatives tend to be popular simply because of the convenience they provide. For example, take a look at this case study, documenting how an iPhone app helped the nurses at one hospital reduce frustrating communication delays and improve care coordination between units. The field of home health nursing has also been quick to adopt mHealth technologies to better care for patients outside the clinical setting.
Empowering consumers of healthcare
You’ve probably noticed that patient engagement has become a huge buzzword in the past couple of years. One of the goals of meaningful use guidelines is to provide better health information to patients and to actively engage them in their own care. Mobile health apps are a perfect tool for patient engagement, because they are already popular among consumers in general – millions of people have already downloaded apps that help them track calories, measure fitness goals, or even stop smoking. In fact, according to Flurry Analytics, the use of mHealth and fitness apps grew 87 percent faster than the overall industry.
Since consumers are already comfortable with collecting personal health data on their mobile devices, it’s highly probable they will be willing to share information with providers and agree to use wearable sensors to aid in treatment monitoring. Smartphones may also help to promote healthy behaviors through simple communications, like texting apps. Studies have already demonstrated that text message reminders can help patients to lose weight, and to manage chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes.
The growing consumer demand for mHealth apps has caught the attention of major technology vendors. For example, Apple’s next operating system for iPhone will come with a built-in health app that can integrate data from several wearable sensors, including FitBit. Most notably, Apple is providing a new tool for app developers, called HealthKit, that will allow the flow of health data between apps and even from a patient to a provider – it is partnering with the Mayo Clinic and with Epic, a vendor of EMR systems, to accomplish this. So it seems that mHealth, like social media, is here to stay.
Nursing leadership will help to advance mHealth initiatives
Patient empowerment might be a new-ish buzzword in healthcare, but it has always been part of our mission in the nursing profession. It’s closely linked to our role as patient advocates and our holistic approach to health, wellness, and healing. Mobile health technologies are an exciting new patient empowerment tool on the healthcare horizon, one that nurses should not only be aware of but embrace. And as hospitals and health systems begin to roll out their own customized mobile apps, nurses – the frontline caregivers – should play a role in their development and design.
Consider this paragraph from an article in Health IT Outcomes:
For example, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has established a dedicated mHealth committee that weighs in on all mobile initiatives under consideration at the facility. This committee is multidisciplinary — including not only C-level and IT executives, but also clinical leaders such as the Chief Nursing Officer and tech-savvy physicians. This committee not only selects technologies, but also outlines policies and usage parameters of how the mHealth solution will be leveraged by the provider and its employees. This strategy encourages adoption, promotes effective use of the tools in play, and helps reduce security risks.
Healthcare is in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. If you’re a tech-savvy nurse with a keen interest in informatics, you might want to consider a career specialization in this area. An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.