Mobile Health Apps: A History

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When the smartphone was invented, an interest in creating unique mobile applications was sparked worldwide. From games to what we now know as ‘social media’ apps, the possibilities of what we could have on our phones, at all times, became endless. It wasn’t long before mobile health apps started to pop up, from general health tracking to condition-specific apps, the speed of development of mobile health apps took on a life of its own. 

Why were mobile health apps developed?

There are many reasons as to why mobile health apps have been developed over the years. Aside from the benefits of this mode of care, there was a clear need for additional tools to aid in improving the accessibility of healthcare and health information, better diagnoses and tracking of conditions, better medical training and more.

What have been some concerns or issues about mobile health apps as they have been developed?

Data Privacy

A major concern surrounding mobile health apps has been the risk to data privacy for individuals inputting their personal health data into an app, especially when there is no connection between the app and their doctor or hospital. The concern around one’s data being sold or used for any other reason not made clear to the user is one that exists across all types of apps. However, now, many apps offer transparency around data, and ask users to consent to being contacted, and share clearly how their data will be used. For example, users of My IBD Care or My Arthritis, can easily access the privacy policy for both apps, both on the Ampersand Health website and within the app itself. This privacy policy outlines specifically how data is used, the rights of the users, other important information and provides users with a contact address should they have any questions.

Lack of Accessibility 

Although a benefit of a mobile app is that you can have it in your pocket at all times, this is assuming that all individuals have the means to obtain a smartphone. This is a bigger issue in developing countries where mobile health apps have surged to reach areas of the world that struggle to receive care, however without access to smartphones, some individuals won’t be able to access mobile health apps that may have the potential to improve their quality of life. 

Resistance from healthcare professionals and patients

In order for mobile health apps to help both healthcare professionals and patients, they must firstly be accepted by them. Healthcare professionals must feel that utilising a mobile health app will not only benefit them, but benefit their patients. If an app makes delivering care more difficult, or costs more money or time, it is less likely to be accepted by them. Additionally, some healthcare professionals may feel that traditional modes of providing care work and should not be changed. This may be a more common perspective for those who have been working in the healthcare industry for decades. Their resistance may overpower the potential benefits learning how to use a new tool may bring them and their patients.

Patients may feel that using an app to receive care minimises the personal connection they may desire from their healthcare team, as many do not want to be seen as just their condition or symptoms. Communicating through their phone may feel like an impersonal way to deal with a very personal thing – one’s health. Another reason as to why patients may resist using a mobile health app is that they may not be too familiar with technology, especially those who are older and who may not use their phones for anything other than calling and texting. These are only a few of the issues that have come up regarding mobile health apps over the years.

What type of digital devices have been used in the past and are currently used in healthcare?

Computers have played a key role in the healthcare industry for many years, replaced with laptops once they became more prevalent. In more recent years, tablets, pagers, smartphones, and wearable devices have become more common and integrated into healthcare systems. A variety of digital testing devices have also been used in the past and are currently used in healthcare, and many more will be developed in the future. 

How have mobile health apps changed clinician-patient communication?

Clear communication equals better patient care. Providing an additional tool for communication is a great benefit for both the patient and the clinician. The more doctors a patient has, the bigger the chance of miscommunication occuring. Miscommunication can not only cost the patient and their healthcare service money, but it can also cost them their health. 

One example of miscommunication is when patients have an appointment with their doctor and are expected to remember all of the information that they are told. One article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine stated that “40-80% of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately” (Kessels, 2003). This can lead to patients not following through with the advice that they are given – leading to worse health outcomes. By utilising digital modes of communication via a mobile app, messages are stored and can be reviewed by a patient at any time. 

Mobile apps have also helped to reduce the amount of DNAs (do not attend) appointments as patients can be reminded through messaging features on apps that they have an appointment coming up, and can attend, reschedule or cancel if need be. Learn more about DNAs in our recent article

Overall, mobile health apps have significantly changed the way care is delivered and received across the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge of mobile health apps entered the market, and this momentum will continue to grow in upcoming years, as the healthcare industry becomes increasingly digitised. 

Learn more about Ampersand Health’s mobile apps, My IBD Care and My Arthritis and the role they play within the NHS by emailing us at info@ampersandhealth.co.uk.

 

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