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mHealth App Helps Patient, Family Caregiver Education Post-Op

Eighty-seven percent of families said an mHealth tool was preferable to paper materials for patient and family caregiver education.

mhealth family caregiver education

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- A postoperative patient education mHealth tool has been helpful for family caregivers looking after pediatric patients who have recently had their tonsils removed, according to a group of researchers from the University of Michigan.

The app, developed by the pediatric otolaryngology team at the University’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and U-M Medicine, provides care instructions for common complications following a tonsillectomy.

Parent or guardian caregivers have long received this type of information following their child’s surgery, the researchers said. However, the traditional paper patient education resources have shown cumbersome, leaving many parents calling the hospital for advice when their child spikes a fever or experiences pain.

“Based on the phone calls we were getting from families, it was obvious that we needed to do a better job of providing them with information they needed to take care of their children after surgery,” noted lead author Ahmed Ali, a Michigan Medicine resident.

“Our patients have come to rely on smart devices as an integral part of their lives, and health care delivery should be offered through this venue as well.”

The tool includes the type of information parents might need in a searchable format, the U-M researchers said. This makes it easier for parents to find the answer they are looking for, rather than leaving caregivers to browse all of their written educational materials or making a late-night phone call to the doctor.

The tool has proven effective at reducing those phone calls while providing the support necessary for a parent or family caregiver, the researchers said. In a study published recently in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, parents overwhelmingly approved of the tool.

Of the 64 families in the control group receiving the traditional paper educational tools, 31 percent called the clinic with a postoperative question. Most of these calls related to pain control or getting a noncompliant child to take their medications.

Conversely, only seven of the 64 families given access to the app called the clinic with postoperative questions. In total, 68 percent of families used the app.

Of those who used the app, 86 percent said they would prefer to use an educational app in the future as opposed to using paper materials. Patients were specifically satisfied with the simple app format, the included photographs, and clear instructions.

“Most families seemed to favor a smartphone platform for relaying post-operative instructions and used it more frequently because of ease and helpfulness. This format allows families to receive personalized information from providers they trust,” Ali said. “Smartphone-based communication should be offered routinely to patients as part of instructions from their health care team.”

The app did not have 100 percent user uptake, the researchers acknowledged, with 17 families not using the app. Ten families forgot to download the app, while four did not properly follow download instructions, and three did not download for unspecified reasons.

Moving forward, the researchers hope to integrate instructional apps such as this into the patient medical record. Tethering postoperative patient engagement tools to the EHR allows for more personalized care instructions, which some experts say will improve patient adherence and satisfaction.

These types of mHealth apps will be essential, especially in the postoperative space, said Marc Thorne, MD, a senior author on the paper and a pediatric otolaryngologist at Mott. Many surgeries are being conducted on an outpatient basis, meaning patients and their family caregivers need access to the tools that will support their recovery away from their providers.

“The ways our patients and families obtain information have changed dramatically, yet we continue to rely solely on physical, printed material and verbal instructions regarding post-surgery care,” Thorne explained. “Application-driven materials allow us to provide patients with the information they need in the palm of their hand. As we continue to study and build upon this type of technology, we’ll be able to further enhance the quality of the patient’s recovery following surgical procedures.”

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