- mHealth apps are helpful in reducing in-person care after surgery, presenting a viable patient-centered and convenient option for patients during post-operative follow-up care, according to a recent study published in JAMA Surgery.
Offering convenient and effective treatment options has become a major goal in the patient-centered healthcare space, the researchers said. Providers are looking for cost-effective strategies to treat patients while making care easily accessible and satisfactory.
For many healthcare organizations, this means replacing in-person care with digital care wherever applicable.
But to what extent are mHealth apps successful in meeting these goals?
In a study of 65 female patients undergoing breast reduction surgery, mHealth apps were successful in reducing in-person office visits, and also proved helpful in boosting patient convenience.
The research team split the participants into two groups, one using the mHealth app for post-operative care and one receiving normal care.
The researchers measured overall mHealth effectiveness by looking at number of in-person follow-up visits, number of follow-up emails, number of follow-up telephone calls, patient-reported convenience and satisfaction scores, and rates of surgical complications.
The mHealth app group had 0.4 times fewer in-person hospital visits than the normal care cohort, averaging a total of 0.66 hospital visits during the 30-day follow-up period. The normal care cohort averaged 1.66 in-person hospital visits during post-operative care.
The mHealth group sent more emails to their clinicians, totaling a mean of 0.65 emails compared to 0.15 emails from the normal care cohort.
The mHealth group also cited higher convenience scores. Ninety-seven percent of mHealth patients aid their care plan was convenient, compared to 48 percent of the normal care cohort.
The researchers measured negligible difference in telephone calls, patient satisfaction, and rates of surgical complications.
Although the researchers only found mHealth benefits in three of the tested categories, they maintained that reductions in in-person care and patient-reported convenience both point to the effectiveness of mHealth at improving follow-up surgical care.
“Mobile app follow-up care affects neither complication rates nor patient-reported satisfaction scores, but it improves patient-reported convenience scores,” the researchers said.
“This finding is important because a common criticism of telemedicine or virtual communication between patients and health care professionals is whether it truly replaces in-person care.”
Specifically, the improvements in patient-reported convenience indicate that mHealth is a viable option for surgical follow-ups.
“There was no statistically significant difference between groups in satisfaction scores; however, patients using the mobile app were more likely to agree or strongly agree that the type of follow-up care they received was convenient,” the research team pointed out.
“Improving patient convenience without compromising satisfaction is another critical finding as we look for ways to build a patient-centric health care system that supports quicker recovery and resumption of normal daily living.”
mHealth apps also made it easier for patients to describe to their clinicians issues they may be having outside of the office. These tools provided more meaningful insights to help mitigate post-operative concerns because patients could send pictures or patient-generated health data via email and not via telephone or in the office.
“This ease of use allows patients to submit data frequently (ie, daily or weekly), providing a continuous, richer inflow of information than could ever be achieved by telephone or in-person follow-up care,” the research team explained. “As we look for ways to improve clinical care, the granular data collected via the mobile app could be used to augment the National Surgical Quality Improvement Programs occurring across the country.”
Although these findings suggest that mHealth could be an efficient and satisfactory treatment strategy, future investigations must assess the cost of these tools. By understanding both cost and app effectiveness, future researchers can fully determine how well mHealth tools fit into patient follow-up care.