Patients following a programme of cardiac rehabilitation who in parallel receive support from a smartphone app show significantly lower risk of suffering a further cardiac event and requiring re-admittance to hospital.

Smartphone Medical Apps Proving Effective

Digital solutions are contributing a great deal to the health sector and the total worldwide value of the mobile health (m-Health) market is forecast to reach $23 billion by 2017, according to the Centre for Technology Innovation at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. However, while medical smartphone apps purport to provide solutions for many illnesses, one may still question whether they are all that effective. Now researchers at Mayo Clinic in the United States have carried out a study on the use of a smartphone app by patients following a cardiac rehabilitation programme – i.e. a tailored programme of physical exercise which a patient follows after suffering a heart attack and undergoing medical treatment. The study highlights the positive effect which the app appears to have had on patient recovery.

App designed to support patient rehab activities

In this study, 44 patients at Mayo Clinic who were hospitalised following a heart attack and stent placement were divided into two groups: 25 received cardiac rehabilitation plus the online/smartphone-based programme, while the remaining 19 in the ‘control group’ received only traditional cardiac rehab. Patients in the app group were asked to enter data each day into the programme downloaded on to their mobile device. The results appear to be highly significant: 60% of the patients who followed only the traditional cardiac rehab programme were readmitted to hospital or came into the emergency department during the 90 days following discharge from hospital, compared with just 20% of patients equipped with the app. Explains Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr Amir Lerman, who is a senior author of the study: “We wanted to see if offering patients a smartphone app, in addition to their cardiac rehab, would increase their ability to reduce their risk even further. We know that people use their mobile devices all day, and we hoped that using it for cardiac rehab would help them in their recovery.”

Extending the benefits of cardiac rehab

In addition to recording blood pressure, weight, blood sugar levels and details of physical and dietary habits over a three-month period, the app also provided patients with educational activities, teaching them directly via their smartphones lifestyle behaviours that could help avoid further cardiac problems. R. Jay Widmer, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic fellow and the study’s lead author, stresses that effective cardiac rehabilitation is essential if the patient is to make a proper recovery. While pointing out that there are “multiple versions” of cardiac rehab available at the Clinic or via smartphone application, he underlines that the mobile version extends the reach of cardiac rehab to all heart patients and could be especially useful in supporting patients in rural and medically underserved populations who might not be able to attend cardiac rehab sessions.

By Eliane HONG