A gamer catches Pokémon in the park.
Healthy apps

On the go: Clinical fellow innovates health care through digital design

The “healthification” of technology may be the key to improving patient experience, says Nupur Nischal, DO.

When the augmented reality game Pokémon Go burst on the scene last summer, people across the country stormed the streets to catch Pokémon.

Clinical fellow Nupur Nischal, DO, was instantly intrigued by the app’s potential impact on health and wellness. To learn more, she teamed up with a colleague to conduct an informal survey on the physical and mental health benefits of the app among Pokémon Go players on the hunt at Philadelphia’s Washington Square Park.

“One user whipped out his Fitbit to show us how before the launch of Pokémon Go, he was walking 3,000 steps a day, but after downloading the app, he was averaging 15,000 steps per day,” says Dr. Nischal, a clinical fellow in Healthcare and Patient Experience Innovation at Thomas Jefferson University.

Focusing on the intersection of technology and healthcare, Dr. Nischal’s fellowship teams her with digital design experts from the university’s Technology, Innovation and Consumer Experience group with the goal of creating positive clinical medicine interventions. Often, these projects involve designing technology solutions to improve access to care or encourage healthy activity among patients.

Dr. Nischal

“We can encourage patients to be and stay healthier by not just talking about healthy habits, but also using ‘hacks’ like Pokémon Go that inspire better health,” says Dr. Nischal.

‘Healthification’ of technology

The benefits of using technology to engage patients in healthy activities can reach beyond physical improvements, Dr. Nischal notes. For example, the Pokémon Go craze not only increased levels of physical activity among some players, but also improved their mental outlook, according to the informal survey.

“There was an individual who shared that prior to the release of Pokémon Go, he played video games at home, didn’t have many friends, and was suffering from depression,” says Dr. Nischal. “With much enthusiasm, he said the app has given him a great reason to talk to new people, take walks outside, and explore his city.”

By encouraging healthy behavior through a fun activity users enjoy, apps like Pokémon Go contribute to what Dr. Nischal calls the “healthification” of technology. “The information collected by smartphones and wearables can help put together an accurate picture of a patient,” she says. “Physicians can use this information to approach patient obstacles in new ways.”

On the horizon

Dr. Nischal’s work at Jefferson University largely focuses on developing mobile health care solutions to improve the patient experience and incorporate digital health care into medical curricula.

“The study of digital health care is not typically covered in medical curricula,” explains Dr. Nischal. “I’m working with physicians to create a digital health curriculum for medical, technology, and design students that will focus on the impact of technology on health.”

Dr. Nischal recently led a team of developers to create a hospital-sponsored app that enables prenatal patients to track important milestones, make appointments with their physician, and even snap and send photos.

“I curated much of the content in collaboration with the obstetrics and gynecology department at Jefferson,” says Dr. Nischal. “We hope the interactive experience will help moms-to-be recognize the importance of continuous care throughout pregnancy.”

Follow Dr. Nischal’s work on Twitter to learn more.

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