Have you ever left the hospital with a handful of pamphlets about a condition or injury, only to pull out your smartphone in the car and do a Google search? Chances are you probably looked up your symptoms even before contacting your health care provider.

Patient education takes place in many forms throughout health care delivery, from those pamphlets, to WebMD searches, to lab orders, to hospital pre-registration instructions. All this information can be overwhelming, so mHealth is creating tools that reimagine patient education in the mobile era.

The WellVU platform that won the Box and Dignity Health Patient Education App Challenge
The WellVU platform that won the Box and Dignity Health Patient Education App Challenge

The internet has become a huge source of medical information for patients in countries with highly developed health systems like the United States and Israel. A recent article, which reviewed studies from the Clalit region of Israel, found that 74% of patient respondents use the internet as a tool to support self-diagnosis and management, but only 19% talk about this with their doctor. Most patients (78%) wanted guidance from their doctors on how to use the Internet to manage their conditions, and 60% of doctors wanted guidance on how to incorporate patient use of e-health into their practice.

Based on studies like these, it’s reasonable to conclude that most patients in developed countries are already using the internet for personal health education. But patients and practitioners want guidance and tools to educate patients more effectively.

One mHealth response was an initiative by Box, a Silicon Valley-based technology vendor that partnered with Dignity Health to host a health patient education app challenge. The competition was looking for teams and startups that are revolutionizing the way doctors and hospitals educate patients, with a focus on delivery methods more than content. Their vision emphasizes the importance of patient education in the mobile era:

“We want to use technology to help enrich personal interaction and foster an environment where patients feel listened to and communicated with in a way that is best for them. We believe patients should be informed and educated in a manner that is personalized to their needs (conditions, surgical procedures, medications and language preferences). We believe that timely and personalized information can get pushed to patients in a consumer-friendly way via smart phones apps or desktop computers or by taking advantage of storing information in the cloud.”

The app that embodied this vision was WellVU, a company that provides “iPad and iPhone based platforms that combine medical illustrations, custom images, and verbal conversation to create patient-specific health information videos that are portable, shareable, and personalized.” WellVU helps organizations achieve patient compliance and satisfaction goals, while improving health outcomes, health literacy, readmission reduction, and meaningful use.

While WellVU won the prize of 100k and startup support, the challenge named four other finalists: Wellbe, CirrusHealth, GenieMD, and LyfeChannel. With ideas like an “EMR Patient Layer” and provider-focused “guided CarePaths,” these apps represent exciting new solutions to patient education in the digital age.

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