Healthcare professionals need information about their patients, and many use smart phones. Could this be the perfect match where health professionals use their smart phones to access the information they need, when they are with their patients? This was the theme of my short presentation at the Medicine 2.0 conference in London last week. Although we identified 4 functions of handheld computers for which there is evidence of effectiveness, clinicians in the audience seemed to prefer to use their smart phones for quick and easy access to information.
However, from the myriad of presentations and posters, I am impressed by the breadth of influence that novel information technologies can have on the interactions between patients and healthcare providers. It seems that patients routinely inform themselves in advance of healthcare visits. Patients have also been using online portals and apps to improve their drug adherence. However, while there is a plethora of apps out there purporting to help, there is very little surveillance of their quality and underlying research evidence. While function and usability are important for starters, many apps do not indicate where and how they have accessed truthful information. While it makes sense to crowd source satisfaction with hotel rooms and restaurants, it is not clear that lots of satisfied users make an app any better than its competitors. In fact it seems that some of the apps designed to measure blood alcohol are extremely creative with the truth and encourage more drinking. Many healthcare professionals were concerned about ways to regulate the quality and accuracy of health promoting apps. They realised that while patients want fun and supportive apps, professionals wanted information about whether the app was effective in changing patients’ behaviour.
However, at the end of the two days, I realised that we have a lot more work to fully realise the potential of the internet and its packages of apps that can be quickly accessed by professionals and patients alike. There needs to be careful consideration about designing processes of care, with appropriate funding and organisational support. Apps need to contain the best evidence about clinical research and behaviour change, and include plans for active engagement and dissemination. It is also important to find ways of sharing crucial information with all key partners to monitor progress of individuals and groups. But is there a future where healthcare professionals could reduce the number of patient visits by careful recommendation of an app that was able to be individualised to encourage healthy self-management behaviours?