Should doctors be reaching for their smartphones?

The technology era is well and truly here. You can’t even take a sideways glance without stumbling across a multitude of gadgets and gizmos, all designed to make life easier. Despite the abundance of apps and social media in our homes and workplaces, how does this growth in mobile technology apply to our healthcare? Should doctors use apps and mobile programmes in the same way other professionals do?

Improvements in technology seem to mainly focus around mobile healthcare in a bid to utilise doctors’ time as much as possible. The NHS are keen to promote their Telehealth scheme, which strives to use technology to deliver health related services and information to patients at home, in a bid to reduce surgery visits and hospital admissions.

Mobile phone image (

Does Telehealth work?

Last year, the NHS brought this issue into focus with plans to roll out CCG monitors to be used in patients’ homes, so they could track their conditions themselves from the comfort of their sofa. The trial included 3, 230 patients, suffering from either COPD, diabetes or heart failure, with its key aims being whether this system would prove clinically effective as well as cost efficient.

Initial results proved positive with a 45% decrease in mortality rates, A&E admission down by 15% and emergency admissions also reduced by 20%. However, there are doubts as to how sustainable this scheme could be, as the BMJ found that the total costs of the programme to be a staggering £92,000 a year – which is three times the NICE cost effectiveness threshold. With current financial troubles plaguing the NHS, it is doubtful that this would be a good value for money option, unless equipment prices dropped considerably.

Grappling to discover a cheaper alternative, the NHS have now launched Florence – a simple text messaging service. Florence sends automated reminders and advice to help patients manage their specific conditions, for example asthma and hyperextension, and patients can even text back their vital stats and readings, automatically logging it for their doctors to check when convenient. Florence also aims to get patients more involved with their healthcare, providing them with a more active role.

Top 10 patient groups using mobile health solutions

American market research company Manhattan Research surveyed 8,600 adults in the US to find out which patient groups used their smartphones to find health information. With 80% of Americans searching for their healthcare options online, hospitals and trusts are increasingly keen to brush up on their online skills.

  1. Cystic fibrosis
  2. Growth hormone deficiency
  3. Acne
  5. Hepatitis C
  6. Migraine
  7. Crohn’s disease
  8. Chronic kidney disease
  9. Generalised anxiety disorder
  10. Bipolar disorder

Patient on phone (


Updating technology in hospitals is always on the agenda, and more so since researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health revealed that when electronic health records are fully implemented in American hospitals, it could lead to doctors being able to see up to 9% more patients. The research also suggested that doctor-patient portals and telehealth technology”could help address regional doctor shortages”, with ‘e-referral’ systems also easing doctor communication. 300-bed LibertyHealth’s Jersey City Medical Center add to the evidence, as they believe that by adopting the Practice Unite smartphone messaging app, to improve their clinical communications, they have managed to save at least $2 million.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a similar study that showed that patients’ use of mobile health technologies could offer a more active engagement of care, and greater personalisation. The technology could do this by allowing consumers to self-diagnose their acute symptoms and track information like blood pressure, glucose levels, and other vitals for individuals with chronic conditions.

What do you think?

All aiming to reduce fuss and bother for doctors and give them the added hours in the day to treat as many patients effectively as possible, toying with technology is definitely on the up, as is working on ways to implement it successfully into the healthcare system and NHS. How do you think this can be done? Have you come across any systems or procedures that have worked well or not?