App use for post-op follow-ups viable, cost-effective

Tapping mHealth apps for monitoring low-risk postoperative ambulatory patients is a cost-effective and viable alternative to the traditional in-office approach for both patients and providers in Canada, reveals a new research paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Using mobile apps can save an average of $38 compared to the in-person appointment scenario, according to the report, "Replacing Ambulatory Surgical Follow-Up Visits With Mobile App Home Monitoring: Modeling Cost-Effective Scenarios," conducted by the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto.

"The higher cost of in-person follow-up care is spread between the health care system and patient; however, the patient reaps the majority of the cost-savings from participating in mobile app follow-up care," the study's authors said.

The news comes as U.S. care providers are taking a cautious approach to incorporating apps into the medical treatment process. As FierceMobileHealthcare previously reported, one physician said the focus shouldn't be on prescribing apps but helping patients determine what health factors need to be tracked by mHealth apps and devices, and determining the best way to share that data so potential health issues can be attended to immediately if necessary.

In fact, a recent study by Warwick Medical School researchers claims healthcare apps pose "significant potential for harm," and require the development of a risk assessment model as well as a framework for supporting clinical use. Mobile app use is also spurring debate between physicians over needed review and certification; the discussion is highlighting pros and cons in how best to tap such tools while ensuring patient safety and data security.

The Canada study claims providing cheaper post-op examinations may lead to better health in the future, as lower costs will improve healthcare service access.

"This cost-effectiveness study is an important first step in demonstrating to health care administrators and policy decision-makers the benefits of investing in mobile app follow-up care," state the study's authors, noting that the savings and gained efficiency could lead to more clinical treatment options in hospital settings and expand clinical consultations.

A mobile app approach allows data collection multiple times during the traditional 30-day post-op period, according to the study. In the pilot research, study patients provided questionnaires and surgical site photos via a mobile app every day for the first two weeks and once a week for the following two weeks--which the report describes as providing "richer data" compared to a phone consult or in-person follow-up care.

"This is an important finding given the concern with long specialty wait times across Canada. Using a ubiquitous technological platform to reduce health care costs for patients and providers in an already large and growing patient population makes sense," the author's write.

To learn more:
- read the study

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