Leveraging mobile tech


In the past decade, the advent of smartphone technology has changed the way the majority of us live. APA Innovation Advisor Barry Nguyen explains how it is influencing healthcare.

There is no doubt that smartphone technology is becoming more popular, including with the elderly population, and now it is influencing healthcare as an emerging field of mHealth. As a result of this increased use, consumer access to mobile health apps, wearable devices and clinical software packages are striving to improve mobile and flexible use of their offerings, this field is not going to slow down.

From a patient’s health perspective, even though there are over 325,000 health and fitness apps available in the market, there is still a question of whether they are useful and will do what they claim to do. A recent research study conducted by VicHealth and Deakin University examined 348 popular health and fitness apps, and interestingly only two apps received a four out of five star rating. ‘Our research showed unfortunately most apps aren’t based on evidence and are unlikely to help people create long-term healthy habits,’ VicHealth Principal Advisor Dr Lyn Roberts said in an online media release.

Nonetheless, no one can argue with the significant potential of mHealth solutions improving self-management of chronic conditions, which is only a matter of time. This also poses potential public policy and regulatory challenges for the government to navigate.

Over recent years, there have been an increasing number of physiotherapists leveraging smartphone and mobile technologies, in a variety of scenarios:

  • managing their practice including billing, bookings and clinical note taking
  • job prospecting through job marketplace and locum apps
  • communicating securely with their patients and their teams
  • using it as a telehealth platform via specialised software
  • using the camera to assess their patient’s condition, such as
  • posture, physical deformities and injuries
  • conducting slow motion movement video analysis
  • prescribing and managing home exercises for their patients
  • educating patients and clinicians regarding topics such as biomechanics, anatomy and medical conditions.

The emerging solutions in this space appear to be getting better in value and functionality. For example, a popular collaborative communications software product called Slack earned the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance and enables healthcare providers to securely share patient health information in North America. An increasing amount of clinical-related apps, activity trackers and wearables also integrate with clinical information systems.

Here are some tips on using smartphones in the context of a clinical environment:

  • understand and manage the risks of use as it could be potentially distracting, worsen your concentration and cause overall fatigue
  • be transparent and professional by explaining your smartphone use to your patients
  • ensure your smartphone is setup for the environment in which you work—this may involve setting it on ‘silent mode’ or turning off app notifications.

Email barry.nguyen@australian.physio with any comments or queries regarding this article.


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