Technology to Watch: Mobile Apps

As healthcare becomes increasingly more complex, nurses must maintain the competencies necessary to deliver high-quality care. This includes the ability to respond appropriately to new technologies, which may have the potential to change nursing practice and/or to improve outcomes. As patient advocates and frontline caregivers, nurses must ensure that new technologies support and enhance the human element in healthcare.

Mobile apps—those little software packages that turn a wireless device into a powerhouse of efficiency—are in their heyday. As they pertain to nurses, the apps tend to fall into two broad categories: enterprise apps and mobile health apps, often referred to as m-health. The main difference between these two is that enterprise apps are productivity-oriented apps that face inward within the healthcare organization to support workers, while m-health apps face outward toward patients and consumers.

Early on in the mobile revolution, you may have used the same productivity apps that consumers use to keep a calendar, organize contacts, or clip and save information. You may have even added apps that include a medical dictionary or drug reference. Last year, however, nurses got a boost when IBM and Apple teamed up to present four new nursing-specific apps as part of their MobileFirst for iOS line-up. These apps are powerful tools that integrate with the hospital’s internal systems. They can track patients by location, allow access to the patient chart from anywhere in the hospital, and send push notifications of patient and staff requests. They can draw information from multiple internal sources and collate it into a single unified view. An app designed for home health nurses allows them to manage patient records; share information with colleagues; and add photos, video, and text or audio notes to the patient’ record.

Business analysts are saying that enterprise apps are a must-have for any business to remain competitive. A recent Forbes column talked about the ways in which they can empower workers and boost productivity. So it’s very encouraging that healthcare organizations are beginning to provide these tools to the nursing workforce, which is arguably the most critical labor segment in healthcare, at least in terms of direct patient interaction.

Since m-health apps are patient-facing, a nurse who understands their use and benefits can leverage them to improve outcomes and quality of care. Mobile health can be defined as any type of medical or health-oriented service that is delivered wirelessly via a mobile device—including smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, laptops, point-of-care devices, and wireless sensors that are worn or carried. These apps can support nurses’ efforts in health monitoring, patient engagement, behavior modification, and coaching patients to self-manage chronic disease.

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, reach fitness goals, or even stop smoking. Patients who are already comfortable with collecting personal health data on their mobile devices are also likely to share information with providers and agree to use wearable sensors to aid in treatment monitoring. HIPAA-compliant texting apps have already proved successful in promoting healthy behaviors, helping patients to lose weight, and coaching patients to manage chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes.

Nurses who are comfortable and proficient with mobile apps can employ them in ways that support their role as patient advocates. M-health can be part of a transformation that expands access to care, improves delivery of care, reduces health disparities, and personalizes care. But it’s important to remember the human element: patients are looking for that human connection from nurses, whether communication happens in person, over the phone, or through a texting app. Human support is the key that amplifies the effectiveness of mobile health technology.

As m-health becomes part of standard healthcare practice, nurses have to step up and advocate for patients by providing clinical input from a nursing perspective. Nurses should also be involved with developing enterprise apps. Every stage of technology development should include the nurse’s point of view about functionality, best practices, and patient safety. The next generation of nurses will have been raised on mobile technology and will have much to contribute. 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.

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