apps

Smart Phone Apps are changing the way that America does business. Popular “sharing” interfaces like Uber and BnB are just a few examples of how disruptive these apps can be to an industry. But what about the healthcare industry? Will smart phone apps lead to increased efficiency and maybe even better outcomes in physical therapy, as well?  Well, that all depends on figuring out how to overcome the major obstacle to healthcare app adoption by physical therapists and their patients- maintaining the privacy of personal health information and compliance with HIPPA regulations.

The use of healthcare apps is certainly being experimented with by healthcare providers and receiving mixed results. On the one hand, smart phones have been shown to dramatically increase physical activity in patients. The Health IT reported on a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association titled:   A Randomized Clinical Trial of an Automated mHealth (automated mobile health) Intervention for Physical Activity Promotion.  Patients had a goal of 10,000 steps per day.  Researchers split the group into 2 groups.  The first group had access to their activity levels and progress through their smart phones.  The second group did not have access to activity levels or progress toward goals.  During the final 2 weeks of the 5 week study researchers sent 3 texts per day updating the first group on their progress and encouraging them to meet their 10,000 step/day goal.  The second group did not receive updates or the encouragement.  Results showed that 81% of the participants who received text messages met their 10,000 step goal, while only 44% who did not receive texts reached their goal.  Nearly 2x the participants met the goal with 3 texts per day.

The encouragement and tracking of progress via a smart phone app in this study will surely hit home with every therapist who has ever dreamed about an app that monitors rehabilitation home exercise programs.  Wouldn’t it be great if a smart phone could demonstrate home exercises and remind patients to do them? Physical and Occupational Therapists, as well as Speech Language Pathologists, might be able to eliminate the following phrases from their treatment sessions. “I forgot do my exercises.”   “You explained these to me, but I didn’t understand the pictures when I got home.”   “I tried to do my exercises, but I didn’t know if I was doing them right so, I quit.”

On the other hand, a study entitled Health App Use Among US Mobile Phone Users: A National Survey published by the Journal of Internet Research in 2015, determined that most healthcare app users feel these apps have a limited usefulness. The study researched comprehensive usage of health apps.  The most common theme for health app improvement was to provide more specific and personalized recommendations, regarding exercises/activities and what to eat than are currently available. For instance, a number of respondents noted they wanted an app to assess their health history, and for the app to tell them what exercises they should do and what they should and should not eat. For instance, participants wanted an app to tell them the following: “Remind me what food I have to eat every single day,” “Tell me when I am eating the wrong food,” and “Suggest exercises, customize workouts to fit my goals and needs.” Generally, they wanted apps that helped them reach specific exercise and nutrition goals rather than just “lose weight.”

A second theme mentioned by participants in the Mobile Phone Survey “involved improved communication with the health care system. Many participants simply wanted an app to show their medical records, while others wanted to easily make appointments and to engage in two-way communication with their doctors.”  Ah, the old issue of HIPPA compliance raises it’s head. How can patients and therapists communicate without breaking the privacy laws? Well, one new option is the Vinitial, a HIPPA compliant texting app created by Dave Kittle, DPT. This app helps therapists improve communication with their patients. The patient and the provider both enter their cell phone information into Vinitial which allows patients and therapists to communicate via their Vinitial profiles. All contact information is hidden.

Because of HIPPA compliance and privacy concerns, healthcare apps are taking longer to be developed and adopted than smart phone apps in other industries. However, most analysts agree that we’ve just begun to understand the potential for improved communication and treatment outcomes that healthcare apps might someday provide. Are there any other healthcare apps that you’ve been using with your patients? Please tell us about them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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