In his book ‘The Creative Destruction of Medicine’, Dr. Eric Topol highlights a few areas important to the transformation of medicine; wireless sensors, genomics, information systems, mobile connectivity, the Internet, social networking, and computing power. I believe that all of these sectors have significant utility in patient advocacy. I will discuss the medical app as a patient advocacy tool insomuch as it represents a convergence of many of these areas in some finished products.
The merits of wireless sensors, genomics, social networking, and computer power have been discussed elsewhere with regards to their potential for benefit to patients, many of which are incorporated directly or indirectly into a medical app. Though benefitting patients, these apps may or may not be seen as patient advocacy tools. However, apps may benefit patients in ways which are not direct and which involve support of the patient by supporting a caregiver. In a previous post, I discussed the pivotal role of the caregiver as an important focus of mHealth. Medical apps will become an important focus of mHealth, and thus a tool of the caregiver and other patient advocates.
In its simplest terms, patient advocacy “regards any activity which ultimately benefits a patient. Using that definition, it can apply to care giving for an individual patient, to groups that develop policies and advice that help patients, to government groups that develop legislation to improve systems or processes for patients” (Trisha Torrey). I won’t go into specific apps, but their role in general as applied to patient advocacy. The most common types of patient advocates are family members, friends, non-profits, and professional advocacy companies.
Apps supporting advocates may cover educational, social and financial aspects of care offering advice, references, and EHR and patient monitoring portals for caregivers. Any app which offers a portal available to a caregiver should be seen as a patient advocacy tool, for it recognizes the importance of the caregiver role. There have been more than a few ‘five best or ten best medical apps for caregivers’. Among these, there is a spectrum from those benefitting solely the patient to one I saw benefiting only the caregiver (Angry Birds). There is no ideal caregiver app. The focus of the app may be on the patient, with a portal for the caregiver to monitor progress of the patient, or on the caregiver. A caregiver-focused app might provide support related to the navigation of the healthcare system or in direct support of the caregiver’s daily tasks or well-being. Regardless of the scope of the app, if it generates meaningful support of the caregiver (which ultimately benefits the patient), it is a patient advocacy tool.
Whether apps contain SMS text messaging programs, simple or more complex medical tool apps, video conferencing, or remote patient monitoring, they should all consider the caregiver as an either the user or co-user of the technology. If that is done, one need not go back to the drawing board to realize complete success. I would hope that any medical app has as its mission to be a patient advocacy tool.