A new kind of tablet in health care

Researchers develop application to address "pain points" in home health care

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Think about the risks in the everyday work of an Albertan health care aide: a considerable amount of travel, risking weather and road conditions; visiting patients in their homes, which may be isolated; and coping with the emotional and physical concerns of patients who are ill and under considerable duress. Add to that the need to communicate with the patient, find his or her records, draw on other critical medical information, and implement decisions about ongoing care and scheduling, all remotely.

To help alleviate these pressures, a group of researchers from the University of Alberta, funded by Alberta Health and Wellness, have created a mobile application for tablets that uses a cloud-based service to schedule appointments and record the prescribed care plan. In a study carried out in 2012, the touchpad resource allowed health care aides to stay in touch with their patients'€™ health care team, in simulated offsite visits to client educators.

Co-principal investigators Dr Eleni Stroulia in Computing Science, and Dr Lili Liu in Occupational Therapy, presented their findings last month at the 2013 International Conference on E-learning in the Workplace in New York. Technical support for the project, including data storage and security on the cloud, was provided by Cybera, Alberta'€™s not-for-profit technology innovation organization.

"€œIn analyzing the work experience of health care aides, we found that there was a serious disconnect between the staff members who were in the homes with the patients and the rest of the care teams, particularly when the aides were working with a patient in a rural location," says Stroulia.

The Health Care Aides and Technology project addressed seven "€œpain points" identified by the researchers in an extensive study of health workers: having up-to-date information on the patients; scheduling that is inefficient or inflexible; infrequent communications where relevant information can be lost; the lack of authority on the part of the aide to make high-level decisions on patient treatment; the lack of in-hand knowledge should an unexpected situation arise; emergency situations that occur in home or on the road; and travel/navigation issues in rural areas.

"€œWe'€™ve used an ecosystem of technologies to address the challenges facing health care aides in their everyday work. The goal is higher quality and more efficient care delivery, and this technology enables us to communicate faster, and share better information,"€ says Stroulia.

"This is a great example of a secure, seamless online system that is only now possible because of advances in technology," says John Shillington, Vice President of Technology at Cybera. "Cloud computing is allowing us to transform the way we think of service delivery."€

The pilot successfully demonstrated how cloud computing can be applied to specific areas of health care. A privacy impact assessment is now being carried out. This will pave the way for the research team to potentially start testing the tool with real patients later this year.