Mobile apps: streamlining healthcare

By William Girling
Exploring four different mobile-based apps, Healthcare Digital examines how they can benefit patients, medical professionals and health institutions...

In many ways, the usage of mobile apps within healthcare is a natural progression of both the technology and health sectors. Combining digital innovations like smartphones, IoT networks, data analytics and cloud computing with healthcare processes in dire need of streamlining has led to an abundance of convenience for patients, medical professionals and health authorities; specialised apps designed to fit seamlessly into the user’s daily digital experience have started to gain prevalence, momentum and popularity as they solve the logistical problems of their legacy-tech or manually-based forebears. 

Healthcare Global takes a closer look at mobile apps designed by Cerner, Medic Creations (supported by BT), Navenio, and Doctorlink to find out how they’re laying the foundations for truly digital healthcare.

Personal health monitor

Mobile apps provide users with a direct and tangible link to their healthcare process; instead of merely being a passive agent, patients can take a far more active role and understand in greater detail why certain decisions or courses of action are followed. Heather Owen, Manager and Senior Solution Leader for Cerner, says, “Cerner’s Well-being app engages individuals to understand their current health risks and opportunities while also connecting them to their care team. Through this app, people can view health data, connect wellness trackers, participate in health-related challenges, register for events, learn about health topics, securely message health coaches and more.” All of this is built on the idea that prevention is better than curing; if a user’s individual goals can be guided and engaged with specific activities, Cerner hopes to create, maintain and improve lifestyle behaviours. 

Centred on a Big Data platform capable of aggregating data from multitudinous sources, including aspects such as clinical claims, payer data and social determinants of health insights, Owen says that Cerner’s app creates a detailed longitudinal record for each user. “Intelligence runs within the platform to provide insights and suggest next steps to the individual, coach and the broader care team via the longitudinal plan,” she continues. “Analytics dashboards within our app also enable proactive management of wellness-related campaigns and metrics within and across cohorts.” Essentially, Cerner’s app integrates an extensive framework of functions and capabilities created in-house, as well as third-party and partner developers, to provide a simple, unified experience for the user. 

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Cerner’s app is its ability to both empower the individual and incorporate the collective: rather than simply be a mobile app which a patient uses alone, Cerner’s solution connects patients with their carers in a direct manner. “Cerner’s Well-being offering breaks away from the siloed approach of traditional standalone wellness apps and puts the person at the centre, connecting them and their associate data with the broader healthcare team,” states Owen. With modern wellbeing comprising health coaching, care coordination, benefits administration, pharmacies and much more, this app-based method for integrating a complex ecosystem for users is a strong model of contemporary patient-centric care.

Heather Owen is a Manager and Senior Solution Leader for Cerner.

Leading a team of specialists, Owen oversees the roadmapping and development of the company’s customer-facing solutions.

Enabling efficiency in patient assessment

Another application for mobile healthcare apps can be to streamline the patient assessment process and accelerate triaging. One such example is Doctorlink, currently used by 12mn patients via the NHS in England. Its creator, Rupert Spiegelberg, defines two principle advantages it provides: “Firstly, it enables patients to get access to their local health service 24/7. The app can then help them determine what’s wrong, how serious it is, where to go for treatment and so on, in addition to offering users the ability to book appointments and get sick notes,” he explains. “Secondly, Doctorlink can help to free up NHS capacity by 30% through reducing the number of appointments GPs need to make: sometimes 20mn fewer!”  

What differentiates Doctorlink from its contemporaries is its online triage capability: a clinically-approved set of algorithms assess (based on questions) what someone’s health situation or condition might be, determine the acuity of the user’s problem and then recommend a course of action, whether it be a GP or nurse appointment, pharmacy recommendation, or simply to rest. “This is one of the best ways of generating capacity in a crisis situation, such as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Spiegelberg adds. “The advantage is that algorithms can be updated very quickly to identify people with specific symptoms, even if the disease is relatively new.”

Ruper Spiegelberg is the CEO at Doctorlink.

Earning a BA in French and Philosophy from the University of Bristol (1990-1994) and an MBA from INSEAD (1999), Spiegelberg has enjoyed a varied career, including roles at Bloomberg, Investis Inc and IDnow before joining Doctorlink in late 2019.

Improving medical staff’s communications

Despite their crucial importance to a hospital’s operations, research by British Telecom (BT) indicates that the communications networks used by doctors and nurses have room for greater efficiency. To address this, BT supported software company Medic Creations in the development of Medic Bleep, which it likens to a “dedicated WhatsApp for doctors”. Citing a peer-reviewed study in which the app was found to save nurses 21 minutes per shift and doctors 48 minutes, Medic Creations believes that this kind of efficiency could save the NHS £1.35bn per annum. “Frontline staff currently waste much of their time standing by the phone thanks to antiquated pager and switchboard systems,” says Dr Sandeep Bansal, Founder and CEO. “The NHS has been using pagers since it was founded 70 years ago. I'm passionate about our healthcare system and want to make sure it sustains itself for the next 70 years. Technology is going to be a key part of that; healthcare must evolve and embrace this digital age to ensure medical professionals can continue to give the best possible care."

The utility of this optimisation would be important at any time, but it is especially important now when COVID-19 restrictions and strains continue to pressure hospital capacity. Unlike WhatsApp or other common, non-specialised communication-based apps which doctors and nurses might use to alleviate the problem, Medic Bleep is a self-contained app which doesn’t include any distracting or unnecessary features. Describing its innovation and potential, Robert Jones, Head of Messaging at BT, commented, “Medic Bleep [...] can be scaled at pace across the NHS to help nurses and doctors to work more efficiently and securely. “We are excited to be partnering with Medic Creations to offer Medic Bleep as a messaging solution to our customers, complementing the existing portfolio of BT solutions on offer to our NHS customers.”

Hospital mapping

Following on from the pursuit of greater efficiency in hospitals, other mobile apps seek to make use of automation to reimagine infrastructure altogether. Navenio provides indoor location solutions - the equivalent to GPS - which can power a range of apps and platforms in the healthcare sector. Niki Trigoni, Chief Technology Officer, states that Navieno is an “AI-led ‘Intelligent Workforce Solution’ which assigns tasks to hospital teams based on their location. This helps prioritise workloads in real-time on the basis of ‘right person, right time, right place’.” Critically, the app’s secure system uses smartphones and doesn’t require investment in new infrastructure, something Trigoni highlights as a significant benefit. “One of the most common alternatives is installing beacons which trigger when someone passes them. Unfortunately, when installing beacons around a large building (such as a hospital), you’ll need hundreds, if not thousands, to create an accurate map.” Navenio circumnavigates this issue.

Describing the tech which drives the app, Trigoni states that a complex network of IoT, cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms generates positioning infrastructure. “Our indoor positioning system comprises a plethora of smartphone and cloud-based algorithms that enable location-based services in a scalable and infrastructure-free manner. At the core, we have developed robust signal processing and deep learning algorithms for human and asset motion tracking using inexpensive inertial sensors on smartphones and IoT devices.” What is perhaps more impressive is that when floorplans are unavailable, Navenio’s smart algorithms can collect anonymised smartphone data to gain insights into building architecture in order to function. It’s a powerful tool and one which emphasises how mobile apps can solve problems which would have been impractical with previous technology.

Niki Trigoni has been the CTO at Navenio since 2019. Trigoni is currently a Professor of Computer Science at Oxford University and has also been a lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London and a researcher at Cornell University.

Trigoni earned recognition as ‘CTO of the Year’ at the 2020 Women in IT Awards. Regarding this honour, she said:

“Although it is intended to be a personal award, what I see under the hood is a reflection of the unbelievably talented technical team that I have had the luck to work with at Navenio. They are the true culprits for the technical innovation, research and product development underpinning this award."

“This award also bears a strong symbolic meaning; it is a constant reminder for me to encourage women and other underrepresented groups into lead technical roles, and support their initiatives for transformational change in the workplace.”

How will mobile apps help shape healthcare?

As we have seen, mobile apps for digital healthcare can have myriad uses and it’s conceivable that they have an even larger part to play in the health services of tomorrow. “Mobile apps put information and engagement at your fingertips – having your health goals and progress right on your phone will keep it accessible and top of mind,” Owen says. “Engagement of the individual is critical to the progress of healthy behaviors impacting goals; clinical condition and holistic well-being goals alike.” More than simply bringing further convenience for patients, mobile apps have the potential to streamline entire hospitals and allow doctors and nurses to provide a consistently better service. Following on from the COVID-19 crisis, which forced the issue of finding tech-based solutions to logistical challenges, the health sector is now primed to explore what else can be done. “Now the ice has been broken, more patients will likely be introduced to such systems and the benefits they bring,” states Spiegelberg. Trigoni agrees with this assessment of mobile apps’ potential: they can empower doctors and nurses to work to their full potential. However, she also adds a caveat: “Covid-19 has shown health teams across the world that their processes need to be watertight and also that the accuracy of data on patients, staff and visitors is paramount,” she concludes. “Mobile apps can remove many of the burdens which currently slow medical teams down, but they won’t (and shouldn’t) replace medical professionals.” 


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