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Patient Education & The Cell Phone App

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Mar 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM

The health of patients is undergoing a fascinating transformation thanks to modern technology.  There are already thousands of apps on smart phones and now the health care industry has begun to use a new one for patient education, tracking and monitoring.  For example, a new app on iPhone and iPad recently launched by Vree allows patients to manage their diabetes.  These new types of apps can also help patients monitor a wide range of health issues from weight management to multiple sclerosis. It is extraordinary work in progress with much greater rewards in the future.  It provides learning tools and mostly quick access to key health care information with just the right dose.  Mobile phones are already at the center of many lives especially when most do not go anywhere without them.  This has become a way of life and users have them available around the clock to communicate with others, access information and now to resolve personal matters such as health issues.  What makes this so attractive is that these apps are available at the time the user needs it so it offers ease and convenience.  It can be accessed in real time so there is no need to wait.  This transformation is in the early stages.

Prevention equals a pound of cure.  There is no question that patient education can help resolve complex medical problems to a certain degree.  Patients who have access to information become knowledgeable and have a greater chance of impacting their health in a positive way.  The new app provides patients with the ability to monitor their own health, provide medication reminders and help them stay on track with health management.  This can be a lifesaver in every sense of the word.  Rather than risk living in poor health, it can be empowering for patients who can access instantaneous support to manage their health.  This is also a significant way to reduce health care costs.  Patient compliance will no longer be an issue once connected in this virtual way. Where does this leave the patient who does not have accessibility to these types of apps?

Clearly, there are many advantages of new apps particularly the ones that address health care.  But many groups who can benefit the most from this technology do not have access to such applications.  One factor that prevents accessibility is economic and another is language.  Economic reasons prevent many from purchasing smart phones because they simply cannot afford them.  It is noteworthy to mention that primary modern technology users account for about 29% of the U.S. market and are mostly in the 25-34 age group.  In addition to this market being primarily English-speaking with economic means to purchase a smart phone at $3,800 for the total cost of ownership (device, service contract, etc.) over a two-year period, it may be unaffordable for some groups who are consequently not connected.  Once you have a smart phone, Merck’s new app, Vree costs only $1.99 to download.

Those who speak other languages have limited accessibility to these apps due to language barriers of the app itself and the medical providers on the other end.  Although some apps are offered in other languages, this new app by Vree is not.  There is always the Google translator that translates literally, but does not have practical uses particularly for delicate matters such as health.  Seemingly, we have to find other ways to make patient education, tracking and monitoring more accessible. If the targeted patients do not speak the language, then the tools should be translated and be made culturally relevant to make a difference.  Lack of access to this new technology should not result in lack of access to patient education and support.  Similar to helping the patient, these new apps help health care professionals tremendously in being more efficient.  They can closely track the patients’ habits, medication and history and provide personalized coaching as needed.   The new apps that offer so much to the doctor-patient relationship fall short of helping the non-English speaking patient.  Non-English speakers require different mechanisms for communication and those without accessibility do not have a chance.

Of course, full accessibility can take time so how to make things accessible to all needs to be planned now so that it can materialize in the future and save millions of lives as well as millions of dollars.  Alternately, other methods can be employed to reduce language barriers.  Global patients require culturally sensitive services and language appropriate communication.  It would behoove the health care industry to focus on patients who speak other languages when it comes to the new wave of technology.  If we are moving toward an improved way of doing things, then let us make sure everyone has access.

Many companies are still trying to launch apps that will work with various target populations.  It is crucial for these apps to be accessible to all markets so they can be impactful.  Patients want to be proactive and participate in their own health care management unlike earlier times when the doctor ruled.  Modern technology gives a completely new meaning to health management and offers the cutting edge means to do it.   These new apps that offer patient-focused care and result in engaged, proactive patients will not only save time and money, but improve the health status of millions. They have great potential, but through a new way of thinking with the ability to transform health beginning with the accessibility factor.  Let’s put all patients first and not leave them behind!

Maria Ugarte-Ramos

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