Preventative health: How going digital can help patients

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According to mHealth App Developer Economics 2016, there were 259,000 health and lifestyle applications (apps) available last year to global consumers. Those apps were downloaded a total of 3.2 billion times, with new apps launching each day.

These apps have benefits that range from general support and instruction to helping people who suffer from chronic illnesses or diseases be more accountable for their own well-being. The apps also provide an opportunity for continual care outside of a clinical setting by storing important medical data from the patient and sharing medical information with clinical personnel.

Lifestyle apps can pull double-duty for family nurse practitioners (FNPs) when working with patients. Not only can you utilize the plethora of apps to connect with your patients and establish on-going assistance, even after an appointment is over, but you can also use the data stored within these apps to inform treatment plans. Steering patients toward apps that will track symptoms, manage medications, send out appointment reminders and more can help them stay on top of an illness or lifestyle challenge they’re trying to overcome once they leave the clinic. Apps that store detailed medical records allow patients to bring all the information to help with a diagnosis and treatment by their FNP into an appointment.

Offering individuals options that teach them to make healthy decisions while holding them accountable for their choices, as most apps do, can really assist people to make positive changes in their day-to-day habits.

With so many apps out there, the challenge for an FNP is deciding which ones to suggest to patients. While it is ultimately up to patients to do their research and find the app that includes the features right for them, as their FNP, you can point them to options that instruct and support living a healthy lifestyle. Using apps in this way will allow patients to take charge of their own well-being.

Fitness tracking

Whether fitness tracking is done with a built-in tracker on a smartphone or through a downloaded app, users of some form of exercise tracker are more likely to exercise during their leisure time than individuals who don’t use any digital assistance. The increase, according to the research paper published by Leib Litman, Zohn Rosen, David Spierer, Sarah Weinberger-Litman, Akiva Goldschein and Jonathan Robinson titled Mobile Exercise Apps and Increased Leisure Time Exercise Activity: A Moderated Mediation Analysis of the Role of Self-Efficacy and Barriers, may be due to the ease apps provide users for overcoming barriers to exercise. This ease of use can lead to increased self-efficacy since with the support, individuals can understand the best ways to exercise and stay organized as they build better, healthier habits.

The most popular fitness apps are usually those that integrate a smartphone and an additional wearable device, like an Apple Watch or FitBit. The apps include features like distance and pace tracking (especially useful for runners,) calorie counters, time-on exercise, step counters and weight tracking. Most apps also monitor sleep patterns and heart rate, give users daily or weekly progress reports and let individuals compete with other users. To supplement all the features on wearable technology, downloading an app that includes prefabricated workout routines can motivate individuals by improving the stats on their worn device.

Additional apps that track fitness and wellness data can greatly assist patients during a clinical appointment. By tracking symptoms and medications, and taking notes of any specific issues to discuss during an appointment, patients will get the most out of each visit. Patients will be able to provide their FNP complete information regarding the condition that brought them to the appointment in the first place, potentially improving the level of treatment received.

Mother and daughter use smartphone in kitchen

Condition monitoring

For patients who have an existing medical condition that requires monitoring, apps that target certain illnesses and diseases exist to make care and maintenance easier. By allowing users to store essential information related to their condition in a digital format, everything they need goes with them to each medical visit. The app allows patients to present a complete picture of their health to their FNP or doctor so that a proper long-term care plan can be developed and any treatment changes can be implemented. A few examples of common medical conditions that have an app directly targeted to them include:

  • Diabetes: More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with another 86 million diagnosed with prediabetes. The app Glucose Buddy monitors glucose levels and tracks carbohydrate intake and exercise to keep patients functioning within healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Attention-Deficit Disorder/Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: According to the article published by Stephen Faraone, Joseph Sergeant, Christopher Gillberg and Joseph Biederman titled The Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD: Is it an American condition? potentially 1 child in every 20 with ADHD has symptoms that persist into adulthood. The app ADHD Organizer supports these individuals by increasing their productivity through goal setting and daily activity tracking. The app also helps users address areas of behavior that require improvement.
  • Lyme disease: Around 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, according to the CDC. iLog Lyme records symptoms, medications and medication dosages to help evaluate whether the current treatment option being administered is the best for the patient. Tracked information can be sent directly to a care provider, and access to a Facebook support group is part of the iLog Lyme package.

A digital world

Slowly, walls of paper patient files are being swapped with digital records that can be integrated across primary care offices and between medical groups. Empowering patients to take the reins not only in building their own healthy habits but also in maintaining their medical records and relevant information can lead to quicker and more effective visits to the primary care office. Utilizing the vast array of digital options available to monitor exercise, track vitals, log symptoms and questions, and provide support for a specific disease can help patients advocate for their own health and make necessary changes to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Patient education is a major component of the work an FNP does when meeting with patients to evaluate their health. If you’re considering becoming a FNP, Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing–FNP program provides a flexible program, combining rigorous academics with real-world practice. The CCNE-accredited*, online degree program allows you to complete clinical hours locally with approved preceptors of your choice. Prepare yourself for advanced practice with individuals and families throughout the continuum.

*The master’s degree program in Nursing, Post-Graduate APRN Certificate program, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Bradley University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (