Surgical procedures help half a million Canadians each year – but what happens after many operations can cause problems for patients and boost health-care costs.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, nine per cent of acute-care patients unnecessarily return to hospital within 30 days of discharge, costing provinces $1.8 billion annually. In the U.S., preventable hospital readmissions cost $25 billion a year. Many of these additional visits are triggered by post-surgical complications – primarily wound infections – as a result of inadequate patient follow-up care.
Joshua Liu (MD 2013) observed the issue firsthand during his medical training – and he has since developed a way to address it. Liu and partners Philip Chen (BASc 2013) and Willie Kwok, a UBC computer science graduate, have invented Seamless Mobile Health, a technological platform that allows patients to monitor their symptoms and lets health-care providers catch complications earlier and prevent re-admission.
Liu’s team interviewed surgeons, nurses, health IT professionals and patients at Toronto hospitals to understand common problems during surgical recovery. They learned that health professionals have little time to fully educate patients about the healing process, and that after discharge patients often forget recovery instructions.
With Seamless Mobile Health, patients receive reminders about care instructions on their smartphone or tablet; some hospitals may lend post-surgical patients mobile devices so they can use the app. These prompts let patients manage their recovery more independently. Patients can also complete health questionnaires and submit photos of their surgical incision for inspection. Depending on the information they provide, they may receive additional care measures and, only when necessary, get referred to hospital.
Liu’s team is preparing to pilot the platform at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and at U of T partner Toronto hospitals, with testing to conclude in the middle of next year. Their innovation won first place at Canada’s e-Health 2013 conference.