Telehealth connects patients with physicians and nurses when they need answers to medical questions, wherever they are. Given the speed of innovation, many Americans aren’t sure what telehealth is, how it will impact their lives, and are hesitant to accept the advice of medical professionals they’ve not seen face-to-face. As insurers and payers look for ways to cut costs, telehealth will become increasingly important because physicians can treat more patients in less time. With effective mHealth triage – often before patients even arrive at a medical facility – physicians and researchers hope to speed time to treatment and improve clinical outcomes.

These six triage apps are on the cutting edge of this emerging trend:

1. Researchers at the MIT Media Lab developed a mental health triage app, Ginger.io. The app allows patients to record their symptoms and monitors incoming and outgoing communications to help identify early warning signs of psychosis. With the help of a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation grant, over the next 12 months, these researchers will study the app’s ability to speed time to mental health treatment, and to help educate and triage patients.

photo of app sketching process

Courtesy of Johan Larsson

2. Imagine if everyone had a number they could call to speak with a nurse directly, at any time of day. Mothers would call to discuss their children’s symptoms. Ill adults would call to see if they can go to work or might be contagious. Caregivers could call with questions about aging parents. We’d all have this number on speed dial and use it instead of Google. In England and Whales, this type free telehealth service exists. With approximately 7.5 million calls per year, NHS Direct is looking to expand into the digital world and recently tested a web chat to triage non-urgent patients. Who in their right minds would search for their symptoms in a random search engine when they could talk to a trained professional on the device of their choice?

3. mHealth apps like PIERS on the Move connect health professionals in the community with experts in specific fields to ensure accurate diagnosis and improve patient care. Through a series of questions, PIERS on the Move helps community healthcare workers identify the risk of adverse outcomes in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and suggests actions to manage this risk.

4. Companies like Apollo use mHealth to triage rural patients. “The mobile phone – and technology itself – is a powerful enabler in assisting [connectivity of caregivers],” says Dr. Sangita Reddy of Apollo Health. “The mobile phone gives us the ability to empower patients.” Apollo offers triage information and advice via mobile phones and video consultations. Patients monitor their symptoms from home, and receive the health education and support that they need.

5. Companies like iTriage are trying to be the all-in-one triage app. The app allows you to check symptoms, learn about possible causes, research medications, and select medical providers. Often, you can make an appointment with a doctor from within the app. It’s really self-triage though – you’re answering questions that a medical assistant might ask if you called your doctor’s office during business hours. It’s a cool app, but you won’t be texting with your doc on it.

6. Dermatology lends itself well to mHealth as skin symptoms can be photographed and, with First Derm™, securely (and anonymously) sent to dermatologists for review. The iOS First Derm™ App and Android First Derm™ App values doctors and believes that no current technology should replace in-person exams. Instead, First Derm™ helps to effectively triage skin issues by sending images to dermatologists. First Derm™ dermatologists review cases and recommend next steps that users can take to relieve their symptoms. In about 70% of cases submitted to First Derm™, users receive information about self-treatment with over-the-counter medications, and the recommendation that they see a doctor if the issue does not improve in a week or worsens. In the other 30% of cases, patients were instructed to see their physician for further testing, diagnosis, and treatment, as it is not always easy to see from a photograph if the skin issue is particularly concerning. Approximately 15% of those cases referred to physicians result in prescription medications. The remaining cases tend to be possible cancers, which need to be ruled out in person.

 

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