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Nurses: Researching tools of the future

Apr 25, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

Computer technology is changing the landscape of health care delivery, but nurses aren’t just waiting for the technology to come to them. Many nurse scientists, including some at McMaster University, are actively involved in shaping the development of these tools of the future.

Some of these inventions are intended for use by nurses, some are geared to patient use, and some target multiple user groups. One example is the “ehealth app” which refers to health-related applications (or programs) that can be used on computers, tablets and smartphones. Many apps are designed to encourage people to engage in healthy behaviours, a long time goal of public health nurses. “This is especially true for apps intended for patients with chronic disease,” says Dr. Ruta Valaitis, who co-wrote a report for the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2014 entitled “Technology that encourages the adoption of health promotion/health protection behaviours: A comprehensive literature review.” These apps are being built for all age groups, from children to older adults, and involve different kinds of technology. “Older adults are increasing their use of internet and they tend to use desktop computers,” Valaitis notes. “Young people, on the other hand, are moving more toward mobile technology and texting.” Another big trend is to combine ehealth apps with other care approaches such as face-to-face meetings, or texting plus group discussions. Multi-approach programs tend to be more effective than ones that rely strictly on technology. “It’s also more effective when whatever you are using is tailored to that individual. You have to address the whole person, their interests, gender, language, etc,” says Valaitis. 

EU-GENIE for seniors with chronic conditions 

Take “EU-GENIE”, for example. Valaitis, who is a scientific lead on the Health Tapestry Project, led by the Department of Family Medicine, tested this app and adapted it for the Canadian environment. Researchers at the University of Southampton in England originally developed EU-GENIE, which targets seniors “with multiple chronic conditions – both health and social conditions – who need support,” Valaitis explains. Patients, with the help of volunteers or health care providers, use the app to map out their social networks, then answer a series of questions about their needs and interests. Based on the input, the app generates a personalized list of relevant community-based resources from Information Hamilton’s Redbook database. “We’ve used the app to support health care providers and clients to learn about the client’s social network and think about how people in their network could potentially help them overcome access barriers to using community-based social services.” The project is funded in part by Health Canada. 

A “Virtual Lifestyle Management” program for diabetes 

Dr. Diana Sherifali and a team of researchers have studied the feasibility and acceptability of another program, the Virtual Lifestyle Management program, which was designed to prevent type 2 diabetes by a technology group from California. In 2014, Sherifali led a study “to determine whether overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes would use a virtual lifestyle modification program for weight loss, and how would they use it,” says Sherifali. “We noticed that patients improved their diabetes control and other metabolic parameters through significant weight loss at 6 months and at 12 months.” The research team tested the app with 78 patients over a one year period and presented their findings to Hamilton Health Sciences, which is considering such a program for patients. This was an industry-sponsored research project. Dr. Sherifali was supported by a Heart and Stroke Post Doctoral Fellowship during the time of the study. 

MyST supports stroke team communication 

Health care teams caring for stroke survivors are excited about a new computer application under development. My Stroke Team (MyST) promises to make it easier for health care providers involved in a stroke patient’s care to communicate with each other and with patients and their caregivers.  MyST will provide a common platform for communication among providers working in an interdisciplinary team. Working on a laptop or tablet, health care providers will record vital information during their visits with the patient. This information will then be available in real time to everyone on the team. The app will help guide assessment and coordination of care of the stroke survivor. Researchers from McMaster University’s Aging, Community and Health Research Unit developed the app in 2014-15 in conjunction with home and community care providers to ensure that it addressed key gaps in the delivery of home and community care.  Drs. Markle-Reid and Valaitis are co-leading a study in collaboration with Hamilton Health Sciences to determine the feasibility of MyST in supporting an interprofessional team approach to stroke rehabilitation for 40 stroke survivors receiving outpatient rehabilitation. The study will be completed by March 2019.  This project has been funded by the Max Bell Foundation and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. 

SMArTVIEW will help nurses monitor cardiac recovery 

Dr. Michael McGillion’s international team of experts are developing a remote monitoring and care system called “SMArTVIEW”. This multi-faceted system will help post-operative cardiac patients, who often face serious complications after heart surgery. Nurses will use the technology to monitor the vital signs of patients for 30 days after surgery – both in the hospital and after the patients have gone home. Patients wear radiofrequency enabled devices and these devices send information wirelessly to nurses’ computer tablets. Nurses and patients can also use tablets to communicate via video, and nurses can share customized advice with patients via the tablets to help them recover. There is also a “peer-support” system built in that allows patients to share and learn with other cardiac patients as they recover. “We have the opportunity to reduce the risk of serious complications following surgery by making continuous patient monitoring and virtual support, from hospital to home, a reality,” says McGillion. The study involves 600 patients in Hamilton and Liverpool, England. The test begins in Fall 2017 and should be completed by 2020.

Technology moves at a rapid pace, but one thing remains constant: the commitment of nurses to find new and innovative ways to improve the health of patients, globally.   

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