An article led by Ms. Hyunmin Kim, a doctoral candidate in health systems and policy at the University of Memphis School of Public Health discusses the use of mobile health applications to improve health literacy and empower underserved cancer patients and their caregivers. As a cost-effective way, mobile health apps provide cancer information and intervention customized for cancer patients’ need with various functionalities, including audio and video features, text messaging, imaging, touch screen, content/information sharing, internet access, and tracking capabilities. To understand and utilize mobile health apps effectively, users need to have a certain level of e-health literacy skills, which refers to “the capability to find, understand, and assess health information obtained from electronic means and use the acquired information or knowledge for addressing health issues.” Given the contemporary health care setting where health information is increasingly exchanged through electronic means, e-health literacy is essential not only for patients’/caregivers’ care efforts but also for providers to effectively deliver quality care.
Despite benefits of mobile health apps, there exist several related concerns: no equal access to mobile technology, no familiarity or knowledge of using mobile health apps, and privacy and security concerns. Dr. Soumitra Bhuyan, an assistant professor of health systems management and policy at the University of Memphis School of Public Health and a co-author of this article noted that the mobile health app accessed through multiple platforms and operating systems can present more security vulnerabilities in terms of being hacked, which raises a significant concern in consideration of the nature of patients’ medical information, specifically for cancer patients. Significantly, mobile health apps should be designed by critically reviewing privacy and security aspects, and provide secure access to patient information.
Furthermore, mobile health apps should be developed by incorporating usability and evidence-based health literacy strategies (e.g., using plain language and simplification; avoiding the use of medical or technical jargons, etc.). Effective mobile health apps may provide culturally and cognitively adequate health education, especially patient and caregiver health education that can strengthen their health literacy and improve health outcomes. Dr. Joy Goldsmith, an associate professor of communication at the University of Memphis and a co-author of this article suggested that future research areas must include user analytics and artificial intelligence in providing enhanced, individual care and aggregate level analysis for policy-making and strategize. The article was recently published in the Journal of Cancer Education.