Tablets, apps improve patient care in hospitals

At UCSF Medical Centre, technology volunteers show patients and family members how the devices work.
At UCSF Medical Centre, technology volunteers show patients and family members how the devices work.PHOTO: UCSF MEDICAL CENTER/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK • Ms Shannon Olson got more sleep than she expected during her daughter Emilia's hospital stay in January. Emilia, 2½, was hospitalised for 10 days to treat an infected cyst on her face.

Ms Olson slept in Emilia's room and planned to wait for the nurses' last rounds. Instead, she went to sleep before the late rounds and each morning logged into an app on a tablet offered to each patient.

The app provided access to her daughter's hospital chart. "It made it so much easier knowing that all of Emilia's updated chart information was on the tablet," she said.

An increasing number of hospitals are offering "interactive patient-care systems" - a tablet with controls and apps patients can use, including one with access to their hospital medical information.

Adult patients can choose to provide access to family members or other caregivers. The apps provide medical information, such as medications and dosage, procedures, daily care schedules, test results, photos of the patient's physicians and nurses, and an expected date of discharge.

Hospitals decide when to release the information. For example, some release lab results to patients at the same time that they are sent to the healthcare team. Others have a delay of several hours to give physicians time to review the facts before sharing them with the patient.

Just about all do not disclose life-changing information, such as a cancer diagnosis.

Mr Barry Runyon, an analyst with Gartner, an international information-technology research and consulting firm, said 20 per cent of hospitals in the United States offer medical information on tablets, which frequently also come loaded with entertainment such as TV shows, movies, games and music videos.

Other interactive features can include meal ordering, after physicians and dietitians have added any restrictions, and controls for lights, blinds and air-conditioning.

"We heard during focus groups that patients often didn't want to bother a nurse even if they were cold or thirsty," said Mr James Fitter, chief executive of Oneview Healthcare, which has sold several interactive systems to hospitals.

He added that the features "give patients, who have so little control over what's happening to them in the hospital, some control over their environment and comfort".

Several factors, including competition and a push to reduce readmissions, drive hospitals to spend the thousands to millions of dollars needed - depending on the size of the hospital and sophistication of the software - on the systems.

The relative simplicity of the apps belies the years it took hospitals to build in not only patient-friendly features, but also secure ones. Every patient gets to set up a password that usually has to be entered each time he uses the tablet.

Some physicians and nurses have been wary of the apps, concerned they would add to their workload.

In some hospitals, the task of training patients about the interactive systems has fallen to nurses.

Some hospitals have taken steps to reduce nurse and physician involvement. For example, at UCSF Medical Centre, technology volunteers show patients and family members how the devices work.

Changing attitudes, surveys have found, come from noting patient satisfaction with the systems and how much patients can do for themselves.

Ms Jessica McKee, a nurse in San Diego, said education videos that can be accessed on the tablets has meant that nurses are being asked questions more specific to the patients' condition and how to manage it once they are home.

On balance, experts who study the medical technology landscape said the systems benefit patient care. Mr Joe Kvedar, vice-president of the Centre for Connected Health Services, a project involving several Harvard-affiliated hospitals, said "while it's more work to deal with patients who are more engaged, the payoff is that they do better and are healthier long-term and that's what we should be shooting for".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Tablets, apps improve patient care in hospitals'. Print Edition | Subscribe