Primary healthcare is an integral part of the entire healthcare system. The Government put forward the Primary Healthcare Blueprint (the Blueprint) at the end of last year, which proposed prevention-oriented and community-based strategies to improve the overall health of the general public.
The School of Nursing of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has launched a pilot mHealth health management mobile app with interactive nursing support. Research data shows the app empowers the elderly to monitor their chronic diseases and mental health conditions. An interdisciplinary team formed by healthcare professionals and social workers offer support to the elderly, such as providing timely medical referrals, thereby reducing the unplanned use of health services and enhancing elderly health management.
The mHealth app is jointly developed by The School of Nursing of PolyU and a local telecommunications company to help monitor the health condition of the elderly. When an abnormal vital sign (such as blood pressure, or blood glucose level) is detected, a registered nurse will be notified via the app and will contact the elderly person to understand their health condition. Another highlight of the mHealth app is the 24-hour nurse interaction function. By tapping one button in the app, the elderly can make a video call to a registered nurse to support and evaluate their health and mental condition.
The research team, led by Dr Arkers WONG, Assistant Professor of The School of Nursing of PolyU, recruited participants from five elderly service centres of the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service. A total of 221 elderly aged 60 or above with at least one chronic condition(s) (including hypertension, pain or diabetes) participated in the study.
The study found that there was a significant increase in self-efficacy, a significant decrease in the level of depression, a reduction in the use of medical services, and an improvement in the quality of life* in physical aspects, after the elderly used the app for three to six months.
Hong Kong has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world. The number of Hospital Authority patients with chronic diseases is projected to reach three million in the coming decade by 2039, which will bring a heavy burden to the public healthcare system.
Dr Arkers Wong said, “There was a significant reduction in the unplanned use of health services and unplanned visits to general practitioners by 76% and 72% respectively, after the elderly used the mHealth app with nursing support for three months. This illustrates that the approach of combining nursing support and digital technology can relieve the pressure brought about by the rising demand for public medical services, helping to achieve the goals set out in the Blueprint to improve the overall health condition of the elderly.”
The research team recommends promoting the use of digital technology for health management among the elderly, and strengthening health-social collaboration on digital platforms. The research and development team will enhance the app, adding functions such as artificial intelligence, and incorporating content that is more suitable for the needs and preferences of the elderly so that they will continue to use the app, which will contribute to the goal of reducing public medical expenses.
*Physical component summary of quality of life includes four domains, which are general health, physical functioning (e.g., climbing several floors, moderate activities), role activities (limited kinds of activities), and bodily pain.