In today’s smartphone populated world, one might say “There’s an app for that” has become as well-known a slogan as Motel 6’s “We’ll leave the light on for you” or Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?”

Earlier this month, 17 visitors to the University of Maryland School of Nursing’s (UMSON) 28th Summer Institute in Nursing Informatics (SINI), held July 17-20, spent a full day in a hands-on workshop learning about using mobile apps in health care to benefit both patients and nurses and how to go about building apps themselves. 

Mobile apps finally are entering the front lines of direct patient care, according to Eun-Shim Nahm, PhD ’03, RN, FAAN, professor and program director of nursing informatics at UMSON.

Selia Monroe, MSN ’15, RN, shows a blueprint she drew for a frequently asked questions app as part of a day-long "Mobile Nursing App Prototyping (DIY)" workshop. The session was held as a pre-conference seminar for attendees of the 2018 Summer Institute in Nursing Informatics held at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

Clinicians are using the apps to look for information, collect data, and help patients improve their health, she said.

Nahm was one of three presenters in the workshop “Mobile Nursing App Prototyping (DIY),” held July 17 at UMSON as one of the pre-conference offerings. Nahm was joined by presenters Tony Threatt, PhD, MArch, senior user experience designer, health IT, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Deborah Ariosto, PhD, MSN, RN-BC, director of nursing analytics and clinical assistant professor of nursing, also at Vanderbilt.

“The mobile world is our future. It’s here and now,” Ariosto said. “You know, all of you who work with nurses, they probably all say, well, why can’t our EHR [electronic health record] just be on our phone? Why isn’t it that easy? You know why. It’s really not that easy.”

“Every software product has issues, especially if you are not human-centered enough,” Threatt added, referring to the concept of human-centered design, in which solutions are created specifically with the end user in mind. “It is really hard to design something that is amazing for someone else.”

In the workshop, participants were asked to do just that: design a simple app that would meet the needs of someone else. At Threatt’s instruction, they paired up with each other to talk about the good and bad parts of any recent day. Each partner was then asked to design an app for the other that would make life a little easier using a freely available app development program.

Aubrey Hagemann, BSN, RN, who is scheduled to earn her Master of Science in Nursing Informatics from UMSON in May 2019, teamed up with Heather Carter-Templeton, PhD, RN-BC, an assistant professor who teaches informatics to graduate students at the University of Alabama. Carter-Templeton said her challenge was having a full schedule and not feeling as though she had accomplished much at the end of the day. Hagemann, a clinical analyst at Johns Hopkins Medicine, sketched out a time-management app that would help Carter-Templeton assess and survey how she was using her time. In turn, Carter-Templeton designed an app aimed at making one specific meeting during Hagemann’s workweek go a bit smoother.

“My partner shared some details and routines of her day,” Carter-Templeton explained. “She highlighted what she thought were positives and negatives. She noted that one part of a specific day of the week is often spent in a long meeting. I designed an app to help with managing and participating in this specific meeting.”

The app would allow attendees to submit agenda items and specific documents or data that would need to be reviewed and discussed at the meeting, Carter-Templeton said.

“I thought her idea was creative and felt that she had paid close attention to my input,” said Hagemann, who also served as a volunteer throughout the SINI conference.

Workshop attendees said they wanted to create apps that would encourage young nurses to read work-related emails, something one participant said was not happening with the nurses she oversees; take a nurse’s voice-recorded notes at a patient’s bedside and transcribe the information onto the patient’s chart; and link nurses immediately to available open shifts. Everyone in the class was asked to sketch the design for their idea within a span of only three minutes to caution participants from overthinking the process.

“Don’t underestimate what you know,” Ariosto said. “You know a little bit about everything. Nurses have the skills. Programmers don’t know nursing.”

Selia Monroe, MSN ’15, RN, a nurse informaticist at the management and information technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, said she always wanted to learn how to build an app “but the thought of learning how to code is a bit intimidating.”

In the workshop, she designed an FAQ (frequently asked questions) app for her partner, who was asked the same questions time and again by students wanting information about the classes he teaches.

“This would save him hours of time that he could be spending with his grandchildren,” Monroe said.

Shannon Cerbas, BSN, RN, who is planning to graduate from UMSON with her master’s degree in nursing informatics next May, said she registered for the DIY app session because she is working on a mobile app with a software developer that aims to help patients increase their physical activity.

“I am the project manager so I do not do any of the coding,” she said. “I wanted to participate in the DIY app building session to learn about the work that goes into software development.”

In 1998, UMSON was the first school in the world to offer a master’s specialty in nursing informatics and subsequently, the first school in the nation to offer a PhD program with a nursing informatics concentration. The school’s master’s-level Nursing Informatics specialty is No. 1 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. It prepares nurses to improve patient care and outcomes through the development, implementation, and evaluation of information technology.

More than 200 nurse informaticians and health information technology professionals from across the country attended SINI 2018.

UMSON Dean Jane M. Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, offered welcoming remarks to attendees on July 18 in the school’s auditorium, saying this year’s theme, “Balancing Digital Demands: Access, Use, Security,” was appropriate for today’s times.

“As I reflect on this year’s theme, I’m struck by how utterly timely it is,” she said. “It is essential to consider the challenges inherent in managing the very real threats to information security and to develop strategies for responding. On the other hand, we are also at a significant time in our ability to harness individual data to personalize health care and to better engage individuals as active participants in managing their health and well-being.”

Daniel Nigrin, MD, MS, senior vice president and chief information officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, provided the keynote address “Real-Life Experiences with Cybersecurity: How to Manage and Mitigate Risks” on July 18, sharing the challenges the hospital faced when it survived a cyberattack in 2014.

Participants were able to attend numerous presentations, including “Code Yellow: Mission Continuity Planning for Technology Interruptions”; “Keeping Our Patients’ Information Secure and Confidential. What Does it Really Mean?”; “The Nurse Informaticist’s Role in Disaster Planning, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation”; “Is My Organization Ready for a Cybersecurity Threat?”; and “Three Ways to Master Disaster Simulations Without Breaking a Sweat!”

According to Charlotte Seckman, PhD, RN-BC, CNE, FAAN, SINI program chair and associate professor at UMSON, participants were able to select various themed tracks of informatics-related content, including a novice track designed to explore the role of the nurse informatician related to access, use, and security of digital data; an intermediate track associated with large-scale disasters and business continuity planning; and two deep-dive tracks discussing issues related to social determinants of health and cybersecurity using mobile devices in health care settings.

“SINI has a long-standing reputation of offering high-quality educational content along with opportunities to network with experts in the field, reconnect with colleagues, and make new friends,” Seckman said. “Without a doubt, SINI is where nurses come to enhance their knowledge and skills in informatics.”

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