State of the Industry – The Role of Mobile Apps in Medical Safety

Pua Cooper

Pua Cooper MSN, RN, CMUP

"What medications do you take?" It sounds like an easy enough question. However, as most clinicians know, getting an accurate and comprehensive medication list from patients can be difficult. Patients often do not recall drug names nor do they always recall the dose of that one tablet taken daily. With 10.7% of people using 5 or more prescription drugs every day, it is no wonder that patients struggle to keep it all straight. Although healthcare providers recognize the importance of medication reconciliation in preventing medical errors, the same cannot always be said for patients. Educating and engaging patients to take a more active role can enhance medication safety.

The Clinician as the Patient

Recently, I found myself being worked up by a rheumatologist. When asked to provide a list of home meds, I forgot to share an acne skin cream. I have used it for so long that I hardly consider it a medication but more so a part of my skin care regime. When I realized my omission halfway through the visit, imagine my embarrassment to discover that this medication can cause drug-induced lupus. Being in healthcare, I know the importance of a complete medication list, yet I was now the patient inadvertently omitting vital diagnostic information. Resolved to not have it happen again, I resigned myself to make a formal list of medications rather than rely on memory.

Being an informaticist, the obvious solution was to download a mobile app that could be easily accessed using my smart phone. Let’s start by saying that not all apps are created equally! A simple search resulted in an overwhelming list of options. All the apps helped to create a med list but what else did I need? Some apps required users to manually type drug names; others pulled drugs and common dosages from a database. Others even allowed the scanning of prescription bottle barcodes to populate the list. There were reminders to take medications at scheduled times and reminders to get prescriptions refilled. Some apps offered the ability to add an image of the pill or look up common side effects. One application even allowed users to securely share their list with family members or caregivers. After settling on one an hour later, there was a new list of considerations. Do I need to set up an account? Why is it asking me to use my Facebook account? Why is it asking for permission to track my location? It left me questioning whether my personal health information was safe and secure.

Ultimately, I worked through my concerns and downloaded a mobile application but it was not a 10-minute task despite my working knowledge of medicine and technology. Let’s face it, there are few patients walking around with an up-to-date medication list on their person—but the use of mobile applications can potentially make that a reality. As healthcare workers, we need to play a more active role educating patients on what technology can offer. Patients need help in understanding what is valuable to their healthcare team and what isn’t. More features do not necessarily make it a better app. Proactively educating patients on what to expect from healthcare apps may minimize frustrations that prevent adoption. How can we expect patients use these tools if we do not experience them and use them ourselves?

About the Contributor

Pua Cooper is the Director of Nursing & Clinical Informatics at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. She has been a practicing nurse informaticist since 2008, obtaining her MSN in Nursing Informatics from Walden University. With a clinical background in critical care and 25 years of hospital experience, she has helped her organization to successfully adopt technology to better patient care and outcomes. She has been a member of HIMSS since 2012 participating on the Nursing Informatics Task Force, the Nursing Informatics Executive Work Group, the Clinical Insights Editorial Committee, and the South Florida Chapter Advocacy Committee

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