Many factors pose a challenge to timely, accurate immunization registries and improved patient adherence to vaccination recommendations. Enlisting the help of smart phones and mobile apps can help meet these challenges say Kumanan Wilson and colleagues from Canada’s Ottawa Hospital.
Wilson et al point to the increasing mobility of patients, the development of new vaccines, shifts in immunization policy, and the use of several products and several different providers in multiple locations as barriers that can prevent the public from fully benefiting from vaccinations. In their view, “Smartphones and their corresponding software applications (apps) provide a unique mechanism to enhance patient engagement with their healthcare and improve reporting of health information while addressing the aforementioned system challenges.”
The authors’ experience in developing ImmunizeCA, a free mobile app to help Canadians track their vaccinations and those of their family and inform them of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks, puts them in a unique position to offer recommendations on how to create a mobile-enhanced immunization information system (IIS) that improves patient care.
ImmunizeCA, available on Android and iOS platforms, creates an individualized immunization schedule for each patient profile that is created within the app; the profile includes demographics and the immunization schedule specific to each patient’s jurisdiction. Wilson and associates explain that “Each vaccination encounter (e.g., 2-month visit) displays the recommended, publicly funded vaccinations, antigens covered, and displays plain language information on the vaccinations. Once the user indicates the vaccination as received, it is recorded as part of the digital health record, which resides on the device, and can also be emailed, printed, or backed up to iCloud or Google Drive.”
In a recent paper in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the team outlines a 3 phase approach that can help others create a mobile-based IIS. In phase one, the IIS would need to devise a mechanism for parents to report their child’s immunization records to authorities by using mobile devices to link to information repositories. In phase 2, the bi-directional flow of vaccination information would begin, during which the immunization status of patients that was stored in public health databases would be made available to individuals. One option would be to allow patients to download that information onto their mobile device; a second option would be providing access to a mirror version of the data in the IIS.
In phase 3, the immunization information system would move beyond the basics and offer patients ancillary features, including the ability to report suspected adverse reactions to vaccines, and the ability to send out appointment reminders to patients to improve compliance.
Resources to improve education about vaccination have become particularly important in recent years given concerning trends among some parents to refuse vaccination for their children all together. Recent high profile cases of measles highlight the importance of vaccine education. Frankly, for some parents, no amount of education will help – their health beliefs will not be countermanded by any amount of science. But for parents on the fence or even for parents who are simply looking to become more educated given recent media attention, these types of apps could offer a great resource. And that’s not to mention saving the benefit of saving parents and pediatricians alike that tedious task of getting vaccination records for every summer camp and school year.