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Rupert Hipwell is Strategic Business Manager at Philips Healthcare.

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'What’s App Doc?’ The use of mobile health apps in primary care

Mobile technology is increasingly able to not only quantify, understand and act on our health data, but also make the process easier by providing intuitive solutions and increasingly unobtrusive capture methods. Little wonder that GPs are championing the primary care adoption of integrated health apps and miniaturised devices.

The use of mobile technology is exploding across all walks of life, and nowhere more so than in the provision of healthcare - for professionals and patients alike. The impact is tangible, a notion that a recent Philips survey of more than 400 healthcare professionals and 2,000 members of the public supports - 88% of those using technology to track and manage their health say they’ve experienced a positive change of habit, be it in increased activity, improved GP consultations, or other means. The ability to self-monitor our behaviour is now a well-established and increasingly sophisticated method for achieving wellness goals from smoking cessation to marathon training.

Obstacle

Effecting a change in behaviour across a population – and beyond those who are ‘health motivated’ – remains significantly more challenging, as colleagues working in primary care know well. But there’s reason to remain positive that this trend will also reverse in time, thanks to changes that GPs are championing. They are using this data to unlock more powerful and effectual health discussions with patients to ensure the actions that follow a consultation are meaningful and the patient able to see the benefits. This is the real innovation, the shifing of the conversation to one of collaboration and dual accountability for patient health.

So, as the health picture becomes bigger and more detailed, and more parties get involved, the collaborative health model will emerge as mainstream practice. Not only are mobile phones and mobile technology linking patient to practitioner by supporting patients to self-monitor and discuss their ‘wellness’, but mobile tech is also creating communication channels to facilitate disease self-management and supported self-care discussions.

Current figures show there are approximately 165,000 health related apps are now available across a wealth of health and disease areas for professional and consumer users alike.

This demonstrates the hunger people have for clear, quantified health information that can facilitate more meaningful health conversations. With these conversations growing in number, they are simultaneously being supported by the miniaturisation of clinical devices that can feed increasing amounts of useful data to the apps. This creates a positive cycle whereby technology and patient education are together providing more solutions across a wider variety of disease states and conditions. This positive trend is supported by recent research, which suggests the point-of-care testing market for infectious diseases, as one example, has grown by almost a fifth since 2011.

Pace

If we consider the possibilities each innovation brings to health management and observe the pace with which these innovations are integrating, there’s strong evidence to suggest that this trend will continue, with healthcare services increasingly making use of technology to automate service delivery at local sites within primary and social care settings, freeing up capacity in the acute sector. Furthermore, if we look at the evolving use and practicalities of health apps in more detail, we see that in a relatively short period of time GPs and patients have moved from using mobile technology for discussing daily step counts and calorie intake, to discussing glucose counts and symptom management for long-term conditions.

Home and dry

Technology is digging tunnels under the silos of care-sites and data sharing, with exciting results. These include increasingly high value, usable data being generated by a widening pool of miniaturised clinical devices. Beyond the aforementioned glucose test device, technology is moving at such a pace that soon there will be home testing for people receiving chemotherapy to help them monitor their white blood cell counts with lab quality results. Appointments, and the anxiety around them, will no longer be needed to see if patients are fit to resume chemotherapy, just a simple home test with the results sent immediately to the oncology team.

This is technology that’s improving physical and emotional care, as the emotional support and patient empowerment that mobile technology can facilitate is every bit as important as the ability to share clinical information. Mobile health-tech is becoming an increasingly valuable tool in the management of chronic long-term conditions, keeping disease management at home wherever possible without compromising care standards.

Keeping pace

Philips recently launched some apps indicative of this direction of travel, one developed with the charity Breast Cancer Care to support better diagnostic self-checks, while another is designed to support people with Type 1 diabetes track and share blood glucose readings with their professional team, for faster data exchange to better inform care decisions. For COPD, patients can use online tools to track their condition and share their data with their care teams if needed, while clinicians are offered simple, intuitive interfaces from which to review their case load and consult with their peers.

These programmes are designed to improve patient care and help reduce the number of site-based consultations required, giving patients greater independence and moving the management of chronic conditions to lower-cost settings.

 

 

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