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Emily Seto Part 5, How To Make Effective Apps

In part 5 of this Exclusive Interview, Dr. Emily Seto talks with Diabetes in Control Publisher Steve Freed during the ADA meeting in San Diego, CA about the development of mobile health technology.

Emily Seto, PhD, PEM is an Assistant Professor and Lead for the health informatics programs at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto.

Transcript of this video segment:

Steve Freed: Well there is a lot of competition out there when it comes to apps. If you do a search on the Internet there’s people that work out of their homes, there’s a lot of universities – what makes mHealth different?

Emily Seto: In terms of that we do as a group?

Steve Freed: (Nods yes.)

Emily Seto: Just to take to the table again, the way that we do our development is that we do not start without a need. If it exists and it works, well then we probably won’t touch it. So we make sure there is a need, we make sure that we have the right clinicians that are involved, and this is usually a team of people, not just physicians, but nurse practitioners, nurses, diabetes educators, etc., who are around to help with the development. We also are tapped into the patients. So I’m from the University Health Network and I do some research there and so our research group is actually based in the hospital. We have access to patients and providers who come over and over again to test our equipment. We give them a version, it can be on paper, and they tell us what works and what doesn’t and then we iterate on that. So, by the end, we’re pretty confident that we have a pretty good piece of technology. I think the other piece again, is that we do the evaluation – we’re very strong in doing pilot trials all the way to very more sophisticated randomized control trials to provide evidence that our apps actually work. We also spend a ton of time looking at how to implement things into the healthcare system – we do workflow analyses and talk to the patients and the providers to see how it can fit into their lives. We spend a ton of time doing that because that will make or break a deployment. So we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that it will work within that healthcare system.

Steve Freed: So everything is 100% dealing with healthcare?

Emily Seto: Yes. We specialize in healthcare only. We don’t do apps for gaming purposes.

Steve Freed: Well there are gaming apps for health.

Emily Seto: Oh yes, there are. As I have said before, we’re putting in some gaming features into some of our apps, but our strength is understanding healthcare, so we stay with that.

Steve Freed: So if someone wanted to find out more about what kind of apps that are available for a medical professional, are there any apps for patients? Where could they go to get that information?

Emily Seto: Yes, that is a really good question. I mean I think that’s one of the things that is an obstacle right now, in our field, is that there are so many apps out there. Last count, there were over 165,000 health apps, so how do you know which is good and what is going to help you? I don’t think patients actually do know and that’s why very few of those 165,000 apps are actually used very much. Some of them are not designed very well and may not be useful, so we need to support patients in figuring out which ones are good. There is a concept out now for prescribing apps. We partner with clinicians and when a clinician says to a patient, “I think this app is going to help you,” and then when it’s embedded in our clinics, I think there is a better chance that patients are going to use it. Also if the app is by an organization that is well-known, such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, for example, then I think it is more likely that patients will use that as well. There’s been work that governments, for example, are trying to find a way to vet apps to see which ones are good and which ones are bad, but it is very tricky because different apps have different definitions of what good is and what’s the benefit. So that is a continuous thing that we are trying to figure out.

Steve Freed: So if I had an idea for an app, could I come to you and see if you would be open to helping to develop it?

Emily Seto: Sure. (Laughs) Always open to new ideas. Again, we start out by need, so if there is a need and it is possible to do it, then we always partner with patients and providers to do it and we always make sure we have providers that think it is a good idea to carry out an app. It’s hard to even predict what we will be doing in the next few years. We do have some plans that are kind of short-term, but there are all kinds of new opportunities and new technologies that are coming out that we are embedding into our systems and we’re always keeping an eye out for that sort of thing.

Steve Freed: Do you have a website?

Emily Seto: We do. So the research is done through the Center for Global eHealth Innovation. If you google that, you will find our eHealth website, ehealthinnovation.org, and you will find more information about what we do.

Steve Freed: Well I want to thank you for your time. Certainly enjoy the rest of your time here and thank you for stopping by.

Emily Seto: Great, thank you very much, it was a pleasure.

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