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College of Nursing

Better health in the palm of your hand

UofSC student’s tool helping health care providers find quality mobile apps
by Laura Kammerer,

With more than 325,000 mobile health apps at our fingers, the road to wellness is seemingly a swipe away.

That is, if you can find a good one.

The mobile frontier is ripe with opportunity to improve patient health, offering providers a dynamic, virtual pathway to look at real-time patient health data and communicate with patients via in-app texting, said Sara Donevant, a Ph.D. student in nursing informatics at the College of Nursing. Better monitoring between provider visits could fill an important gap in states like South Carolina, which has high rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and many underserved rural areas.

However, fewer than 10 percent of health apps are based on evidence-based practice, she said, and it’s difficult for busy health care professionals to cut through the digital clutter to find effective apps that can help patients manage their health conditions.

Enter Donevant, of Conway, a Jonas Foundation nurse leader scholar who is developing a tool that providers can use to analyze app quality based on clinical criteria and technological ease and also share ratings and reviews. Her research, funded by a National Institutes of Health pre-doctoral fellowship grant, could help accelerate provider and patient adoption of effective health apps and more quickly identify troublesome health changes in individual patients.

“The impact of this research is very significant in creating new informatics approaches that… provide the opportunity to greatly affect the time to initiating a life-saving intervention and improve outcomes for patients with chronic health conditions,” wrote associate professor Joan Culley and assistant professor Robin Estrada in their letter nominating Donevant for a 2018 University of South Carolina Breakthrough graduate scholar award, which she received.

Although mobile health apps abound, many focus on a specific health condition rather than taking a holistic, comprehensive view of patient health. As a result, patients with more than one health condition may be asked to sync or log the same data into multiple apps, which increases their frustration and decreases the likelihood that they will regularly use the apps, Donevant said. In addition, many apps do not fully integrate patient health data and communication into the patient record, limiting their utility, she said.

Donevant, a first-generation college student who earned her associate’s degree in nursing through a night program, developed a passion for mobile health while working as an intensive care unit nurse. “Patients would ask, ‘What help can you give me to help manage my diabetes or my hypertension?’” she said. “Or ‘I know I need to exercise, but I don’t know where to begin.’”

With encouragement from an informatics nurse, the former seamstress and stay-at-home mom followed her interest in mobile health and earned her master’s degree in nursing informatics. She had no plans to pursue another degree, but while teaching at a technical college, a colleague with a Ph.D. insisted she explore earning her doctorate.

“I’ve always had different ideas about how to improve the system, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it,” Donevant said. “This program has shown me I can make a difference in what I’m doing and that it’s okay to speak up and share your ideas, that these are great ideas that can improve health care overall.

“It has given me a voice to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I do know something and I’m on the right track.’”

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