New app aims to reduce impact of fake news on patients and healthcare services

The scale of healthcare misinformation is a source of frustration - Healthinote seeks to counter the threat with a verified and up-to-date information resource.
By Piers Ford
01:25 am
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Cognitant Group has launched Healthinote, an app that provides patients with up-to-date, verified healthcare information to help them understand their conditions and treatment options better, and counters the potential impact of "fake news" on their decisions and outcomes.

With a search facility, a favourite page for users to save personalised information and a share function, the app also uses 3D and virtual reality (VR) to help patients understand their condition visually. It includes verified COVID-19 guidance to help users cut through information from unofficial sources, which can be conflicting and confusing.

It draws content from the NHS official website as well as from pharmas, charitable organisations and leading universities. Partners include Bayer, Pfizer, UCB, NHS England, NHS Improvement and The Health Foundation.

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Dr Tim Ringrose, Cognitant CEO and a former emergency care specialist, said the timing of the Healthinote’s launch during the COVID-19 pandemic was mainly fortuitous but provided a useful context for the problems caused by healthcare misinformation.

“We’ve been prototyping and user testing this technology for a couple of years in primary care and hospitals, with patients from different backgrounds, and it has been thoroughly thought through in terms of the complexity of drawing down information from different sources,” he said.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Dr Ringrose said the scale of healthcare misinformation is enormous, and the resulting financial cost to the healthcare service is very difficult to calculate.

“Fake news is a good way of putting it,” he said. “The consequences of misinformation for a patient can be considerable: A decision not to follow medical advice might lead to a poor outcomes, being unable to work, even disability or early death. People can be very persuaded by what they read or hear.”

He said this is a source of enormous frustration for medics, who might have to begin a consultation by understanding and unpicking the misinformation that a patient has been looking at.

“The short consultation time in GP practice makes it impossible to adequately tackle misinformation,” he said. “Doctors want to spend meaningful time with their patients, but that is not practicable in the way our health service runs. This was a big part of our motivation behind the development of Healthinote – to ensure there is a better way.”

WHAT'S THE TREND

Dr Ringrose said that user testing focused on the patient experience – essential for uptake of the app – but it was also clear that clinicians would see it has a huge potential benefit.

One test ran earlier this year at the UK's Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH), where the technology was part of a pilot project to improve the communication of health and self-care information with kidney patients. Communication materials and digitised forms were made available via Healthinote, allowing clinicians to recommend information via a link or QR code.

The pilot itself was part of a major transformation programme at the RBH outpatients department, aimed at reducing the number of people having to attend hospital for follow-up appointments that can now be done virtually on patients’ mobile devices from their home or workplace.

ON THE RECORD

Dr Emma Vaux, consultant nephrologist at the RBH, said the aim of the pilot was to evaluate how patients best understand and want to consume health information, and look at ways of delivering this information digitally.

“Over the last 18 months we’ve made big changes to the way patients with kidney disease are cared for, adopting virtual services and supporting them more in the community,” she said. “This means 30% of new outpatient appointments can be avoided and a further 40% can be managed differently.”

Dr Vaux said the pilot enabled patients and carers to access information in a style and content that works best for them and helps them understand more about their condition and how to access the right support.