Use of healthcare apps expanded 25 percent during pandemic
August 30, 2021
When Toronto pharmacist Michael Do saw how much his patients were struggling to remember when to take their medications and what they were used for, he decided to create an app that would do the work for them.
“One of our core duties [as pharmacists] is to educate patients and ensure they’re using their medications appropriately… however, I realized that it didn’t matter how hard we worked at the pharmacy, we still had patients that ended up at the hospital,” he said. “We needed a better support system that might start at the pharmacy but would extend to and support patients at home.”
He launched the MedEssist app (www.medessist.ca) in 2018, which allows patients to see pictures of what their medications looks like and get reminders for how and when to take them.
Do said younger patients prefer the app for refilling medications quickly and for the daily med reminders, whereas older patients like using it as an electronic medication record and as a communication tool with their pharmacist. “For older patients, MedEssist is often recommended to them by their pharmacist whereas younger patients are more proactive in downloading [the free app] after seeing one of our posters at the pharmacy,” he said.
These days, as more and more Canadians aim to get better control of their health, they’re turning to mobile apps as a convenient way to access credible health information. After all, they can use health apps to track their insulin levels, symptom progression and body temperature. The Apple Watch can even track atrial fibrillation based on heartbeat data.
This year, TELUS Health MyCare App has added features that sync data from other activity trackers and wearables to help gauge mood and activity levels, as well as giving users the ability to track their symptoms and determine how healthy they are by using AI technology. Users can also use the app to book a video appointment with a local physician or mental health counsellor.
But it’s not just patients benefiting from mobile apps. Physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers can also access this data in real-time to quickly make a diagnosis, identify changes in vital statistics and analyze sudden symptoms. MedEssist recently launched the pharmacist dashboard app which is helping pharmacies conduct flu and COVID-19 vaccinations seamlessly by taking care of appointment bookings and organizing patient data.
According to HealthWorks Collective, there were more than 97,000 health and fitness apps available for mobile and tablet devices in October 2020, with the mobile health apps market expected to exceed US$111 billion by 2025.
It’s no surprise then that mobile app and web development programs (see for example, coursecompare.ca for online courses and programs in this area) are booming as a result. In fact, research published by the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Applications (ORCHA) noted there has been a 25 percent upsurge in mobile health app downloads during the pandemic.
Chris Engst, director of TELUS Health MyCare (www.telus.com/mycare), said accessibility has always been important to patients when it comes to health care, but COVID-19 has taken that up another notch making mobile apps all the more appealing.
“I think with COVID-19, you just saw this massive change in people’s perceptions, both from the provider and patient side, to say is this just becoming a normal way to access healthcare,” he said.
“We also have very stringent safeguards in place not only to protect data, but to be very clear with patients about what we use that data for – and I think that’s very important.”
With the rise of mental health issues, he said another key aspect of apps like TELUS’ is the ability to quickly connect users with mental health resources and counsellors.
“Roughly 15 percent of our physician cohort are mental health related, and we’re investing heavily in mental health services because people are really struggling now,” said Engst. He also points to the fact that 60 percent of patients using the app don’t have a family doctor, which means the mobile service is helping fill a real healthcare gap across the country.
“During the pandemic, apps and technology are becoming more and more important within healthcare because they are solving important problems that can’t be solved otherwise,” said Do.
With so many patients needing to access healthcare virtually and even to book their COVID-19 vaccine online, he believes the healthcare app trend will only continue to expand globally.
“The need to have a verified vaccination record on hand is going to expose everyone to having healthcare records on their phones,” he said.