By Joe Tuan, founder, TopFlight Apps.
Imagine for a second: you’re walking through the busy halls of your local hospital, only to notice that the doctors and nurses around you are constantly checking their phones and tablets. It strikes you as odd, and you can’t help but think: Isn’t anyone getting any work done around here?
Actually, they are.
With over 70 percent of examined patients using at least one health app to manage their diagnosed condition, and more than 318,000 mobile healthcare apps available in top app stores worldwide, the picture of doctors and nurses relying on their devices as literal “mobile assistants” is becoming a highly sought-after reality.
While this perspective is often bolstered by positive reviews of hand-held computer use by healthcare professionals – where digital assistant devices improved physician effectiveness during patient documentation, patient care, information seeking and professional work patterns — the mHealth industry still has a lot of room to grow in terms of digital health infrastructure.
Not to be put off, mHealth developers have nevertheless continued to advance their compliance, security, accessibility, and efficiency practices in the face of wide-scale transformative change. And when asked, most mHealth developers (myself included) will tell you that what motivates us to keep going has to do with the massive potential these technologies have to literally transform the field of medicine as we know it.
And what exactly is that potential? Every day our news feeds are inundated with articles promoting the latest in mHealth technology – from mobile apps that can perform an ultrasound, to apps that help patients track their own symptoms – so it can be hard to navigate the ever-widening world of mobile healthcare.
In light of such a big subject then, I’ve often taken to cementing my own understanding of mobile health by thinking about the ways in which these applications are already affecting physicians, clinicians, and other practitioners at every stage of their medical career.
Put differently, from the time that an aspiring healthcare professional begins their educational journey, to their first-accepted payment for needed treatment, mobile health apps are helping doctors transform the field of medicine before our very eyes. Here’s how:
- Medical Education
In a lot of our popular media, physician education is represented as an arduous journey from beginning to end. With long nights studying, cadavers to examine, and an infinite amount of medical information to digest, med students are flocking to (mobile) medical education applications that can help them test their own knowledge in a way that suits their learning style.
On a vaster scale, educational institutions have also begun to rely on mobile health applications to administer medical education. For one, complex AR technologies have been used in recent years to assist with surgical training purposes, whereby surgeons in training are given almost unlimited access to teaching materials, tests, and visually-realistic surgical exam practice via mobile means. In my own experience as well, I’ve learned that there are many research institutions looking to bring their research to a mobile market, utilizing the functions of mobile apps to help with clinical research trials.
The private health sector is simultaneously building digital platforms for non-students to pursue a type of medical learning, whether that be as simple as a game that teaches kids about the body, to a mobile app that lets users digitally explore their own genetic code. In gaining an element of control in terms of medical literacy and education, mobile apps, therefore, have a huge potential to increase the rate at which new physicians and practitioners graduate while elevating their level of personal attachment to their practice.
How this helps patients
Not only are patients also being given have the ability to monitor their own wellness via mobile health applications, but doctors can also point these vulnerable populations to educational game and resource apps for further learning about diagnoses and other symptom information, offering patients a sense of control in times of illness.
- Practitioner Employment
Whether via communication apps, or through apps that help patients locate a physician closeby, healthcare applications are already changing the way doctors, surgeons, and nursing professionals find work. That is, these apps are offering healthcare practitioners more control over their operations, while simultaneously helping them better determine exactly when and where they’re needed.
For instance, there are apps out there that help nurses and other practitioners fill vacant positions in nearby care centers. There are freelance management platforms dedicated to coordinating the care of in-home practitioners. In the same way that we keep hearing about an overall shift to a “gig” economy, doctors are finding the freedom to “leave their office” and offer client care from the comfort of their own homes.
It goes without mentioning as well that the growing presence of these mobile mechanisms within our healthcare centers is resulting in an increase in the number of jobs available for nurses, researchers, and other medical professionals. Just one example that comes to mind is the evolving position of a health informatics nurse, a medically trained professional responsible for improving patient care via the coordination and interpretation of application data trends within their healthcare facility.
How this helps patients
At the risk of sounding like I’m commodifying medicine, if we think of patients as consumers in a so-called “free healthcare market” (I’m simplifying) where they have the right to choose who they accept care from, then we can perhaps forecast better care outcomes as a result of the ability to make this choice. So-called “bad” doctors will no longer find clients as desperate for their care and will be forced to competitively improve their standard.
- Medical Practice
With the help of mobile healthcare applications that integrate with existing electronic health or electronic medical records systems, medical professionals are every day finding it easier to both access and maintain health records at the touch of a button. I have seen all kinds of apps that amalgamate differing functions of patient data – from medical history to changes in treatment patterns – into a single dashboard that can be quickly interpreted toward quicker patient turnaround and improved patient care.
What’s more, when cases of inaccurate reporting arise, it is not usually out of blatant disregard for patient care, but because of miscommunication errors that arise as a result of patient transfer, shift changes, and misfiled documents. Nowadays, medical professionals of all kinds are using healthcare apps to record their data in real-time, leaving less room for error should another specialist have to “scrub in” on the fly.
In short, at the level of medical administrative practice, whether in a lab, medi-center or for a freelancer practitioner, healthcare applications have an increasing opportunity to better organize the distribution of healthcare. And with only 2.6 doctors per 1,000 patients in the U.S., it’s important that we continue to build platforms that help doctors prioritize their time for patients that need the most assistance.
How this helps patients
Aside from the obvious — that more patients naturally benefit from these improved treatment efficiencies — healthcare apps are also transforming the way we think about patient security, privacy, and autonomy (think HIPAA-compliance). For instance, healthcare apps using blockchain technologies have been shown to succeed where other methods fail in terms of securely retaining patient data — a problem that has pre-dated the use of healthcare applications.
- Patient Care
Having touched a little bit already on patient-practitioner communication and patient management, existing mobile healthcare applications are now coming out with a range of consulting, monitoring, and prescribing functions that are changing the ways in which physicians and other specialists physically administer specialized care.
For instance, a rising healthcare solutions company called Nico.lab makes its AI application StrokeViewer available via the cloud, meaning it can be accessed within minutes on any device. This software is based on an algorithm that has “learned” from exposure to thousands of CT scans and the like and has continually outpaced human counterparts (well, neuroradiologist human counterparts) in identifying blood clots by about 20 percent.
From diagnosis to treatment, to clinical long- or short-term care, mobile health applications thus play a part in lessening the burden of perfection placed on medical professionals overall. Which isn’t to say that doctors will now be allowed to operate at less than 100%; instead, they will have a tool that is always readily available to help them better ascertain a patient’s criteria for care, their diagnoses, or even determine the last time their patient picked up a prescription. With this (and other) kinds of tools available and at the ready, practitioners are in a better position to save lives – and if nothing else, that’s transformative.
How this helps patients:
One of the unexpected ways in which these kinds of applications are transforming the field of medicine for patients is that they reduce the need for these populations to book return visits. More so, one study found that these care options actually “improved [a patient’s] relationship with their provider”, meaning better care, and more sustainable practices.
- Medical Costs, Insurance, and Payment
Here’s the kicker with mobile health application development: as business ventures go, it can (when in the right hands) be accomplished both effectively and cheaply. What follows is an easily integrated digital resource for combating the rising costs of medical treatment on the whole. Further, with so many options out there to choose from, most healthcare centers looking to integrate healthcare applications into their operations don’t have to build a custom application and can purchase pre-existing programs that have already delivered tangible results elsewhere.
In light of these internal cost-savings mechanisms (obviously passed on to both doctors and patients), some healthcare apps are taking medical cost management to another level, helping patients and practitioners manage fees, taxes, insurance, and treatment payments without pouring over hours of paperwork.
Existing applications also improve automated billing processes and can coordinate regulated payment schedules, allowing doctors to collect and track payment information at the click of a button. In other cases, as with insurance protocols, some practitioners no longer have to wait for an insurer to approve medical reimbursements before they get paid, all thanks to the tidal changes arising from healthcare application integrations.
How this helps patients
Most patient populations are ill, aging, or vulnerable in some way and can benefit from a focus on care-only treatment that relies on simplified payment structures. What this usually translates to is a reduced need for patients or their family members to wait in long line ups to pay the medical bills. As well, low-income patients are now seeing a surge in mobile apps targeting their barriers to care, and in the event of an emergency, payment options and plans are instantly available and accessible and can be affected immediately. Payment notifications can also be added, for the convenience of those with other focuses, or so that family members may be notified of past due notification.
Healthcare apps are transforming medicine
As healthcare apps continue to saturate our medical systems, a major shift in patient care and administration is taking place with mobility at the center. Certainly, the reduced size and increased processing speed of these hand-held, IoT devices has led to rapid adoption in the healthcare industry, and is already creating tangible improvements to the quality of care metrics.
In closing, I’ve heard it said once that we are moving from a world of inbound patients to a world of inbound data. With this shift having huge impacts on how we deliver care, the field of medicine and healthcare is transforming as we know it. While these impacts should not be underestimated, and while patients and doctors should remain at the center of progress in this area, we can remain hopeful that something as simple as an app on your phone’s screen has the potential to transform the world of medicine and healthcare forever, and for the better.