One of the most discussed advances in medical technology today is the mobile revolution, which has opened the doors for patients to use special apps and services to message their doctor electronically. It seems like patients everywhere are thrilled to have the opportunity to text, email, and IM their doctors over HIPPA-compliant communication services.


It’s always been tough to contact doctors, and now it’s easier than ever. Yet, where do nurses fit into this picture? Doctors now have the ability to speak ad infinitum to their post-surgery patients, consultations, and lifelong patients, but what about nurses?


Here’s my prediction: in 5 years, nurses will be the MVPs of the digital health era.

Here’s how:


Some mobile devices and apps track personal health goals and achievements, which can definitely help patients achieve health goals on a basic level. It’s great to carry a pedometer to meet a goal of walking a mile a day, or even invest in a Fitbit and track sleep and exercise patterns. Services like HealthMonth and Lift also provide motivating forces for people who are looking to be healthier.


As fancy and as high-tech as these health platforms are, nothing in the coming 50 years will ever replace the care and education of a nurse, aka, a real-live health professional. We’ve already seen that online health encyclopedia sites like WebMD can be both good and bad: some patients use the web to understand symptoms, yet the onslaught of information causes some patients to mis-diagnose themselves.


Sadly, the health industry has learned over and over that the web alone can’t help patients, it can only provide information.

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One of the biggest problems in healthcare which can’t be solved by pedometers or apps: patient non-adherence. A nurse or doctor might prescribe bedrest, but the patient could ignore/forget this advice and go running a 5k despite doctor’s orders. A patient with an infection may receive a round of antibiotics, and then only take the first dose. Two weeks later, the patient is back at the office, worse than before.


Maybe simplicity is the best place for mobile health apps to begin work with nurses and patients. Instead of full-fledged care and diagnoses, nurses could offer patients gentle reminders over secure text and email. 

A study in 2012 found that Online Patient Nurse Communication filled gaps in treatment for cancer patients, and it even streamlined communication. Rather than creating confusion, the online communication made patients feel better.  


So, what do we do with all of this new research and technology? It may be best to just start thinking about how technology can improve the lives of our patients, and how communicating via a computer or tablet might work into a daily shift. As always, balance will be the key to success. 

The move toward functional mobile health communications at all hospitals and facilities may take years, or it may happen all at once. Software built specificly to message patients seems to come out every day, such as this one. Nurses will continue to care, and they will be more enabled with technology that gives them a voice.


Marc Laughton
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