After knee surgery: how do you
monitor this patient at home?
The "this paper" link in the original post directed readers to the wrong web site.  It's been corrected and the PHB apologizes for the error)

While the Population Health Blog is tantalized by the prospect of healthcare consumers using mHealth apps to lower costs, increase quality and improve care, it wanted to better understand their real-world value propositions. 

Are app-empowered patients less likely to use the emergency room?

Do they have a higher survival rate? 

Do they have higher levels of satisfaction?

In other words, where's the beef?

That's when this paper caught the PHB's search engine eye. It's a report on using an app to monitor post-operative patients at home.

This was a "feasibility study" involving a Canadian cohort of home-based post-operative patients who had gone through either reconstructive breast or knee (anterior cruciate repair) surgery. In order to qualify, patients had to be between age 18 years and 75 years, not using tobacco and able to speak English.  Once the app was activated, patient were asked about pain, their recovery and satisfaction (using a 1 to 4 scale).  They also used the app to take pictures of the surgical site. 

To maintain confidentiality, there were no patient identifiers linked to any images and a "locked down" subscriber identify module (SIM) was used. Data was encrypted on the server and the device.

Three surgeons participated and were responsible for reviewing their patients' data on a daily basis.  The app flagged any measure that was unexpectedly out of range for expedited review.

Instruction on use of the app took between 30 and 45 minutes. Patients were loaned a smartphone or a tablet, along with an instructional booklet.  At the end of the 30 day period, the smartphone or tablet had to be returned.

38 breast patients were approached at 33 agreed to participate.  40 orthopedic patients were approached and 32 agreed to participate.


The mean number of log-ins over the 30 days ranged from 19 to 24, with greater use in the first half of the month. Over 2000 photos were generated. Based on the pain and recovery scales, two early infections were identified and one was treated over the phone with antibiotics with subsequent improvement. On a 1 to 4 scale, the overall level of satisfaction was 2.7 to 3.9.

The PHB's take?

It would appear that the science on using apps to address specific outcomes in narrowly defined populations is still in its infancy.  While the Triple-Aim potential of mHealth is high, we're just beginning to understand how an app would work in the real world, say.... monitoring the outpatient status of recently discharged surgery patients.

That's why this particular study was interesting. It would appear handhelds or tablets can be used in the post-operative setting, that patient satisfaction is high and that, with symptom monitoring and imaging, an early wound infection can be identified and managed early.

Naturally, it'll take a study involving a control group to better understand the true value of an app like this.  Based on this feasibility study, the PHB is looking forward to reading about it in the not too distant future.

Image from Wikipedia

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