Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Can't recall what your doctor told you? There's an app for that

Information overload makes it tough to remember important details of a doctor's visit. An app developed in Alberta can help you keep track of everything we hear from medical professionals.

Patients may be overwhelmed by information during a visit to the doctor, but this tech can help

It's easy for patients to forget what their doctor told them, particularly during high stress appointments. (Goodluz/Shutterstock)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

If you've ever left a medical appointment and wondered, "What did the doctor just say?" you aren't alone.

Information overload is a real problem when trying to remember important details of a visit with a medical professional. People in particularly intense appointments — such as when they get a serious diagnosis — remember even less. 

"Not surprisingly, the more stressful the clinical appointment the less you're likely to remember," health consultant Mary Jane Hampton told Information Morning.

"And it doesn't matter how smart you are, how chill you are, or how prepared you are. Research suggests that most of us will, at best, expect to hear and remember a little more than half of what we're told in a clinical appointment — you may get part of it, you may get none of it, or you may get some of it wrong."

Health consultant Mary Jane Hampton suggests an app can help patients keep track of essential health information (Robert Short/CBC)

Forgetting what you were told by your health provider can be inconvenient — such as needing to have things repeated to you by a pharmacist when you go to pick up a prescription. You might not be prepared for tests, or you may miss a cue that you need followup.

Or it could be as serious as ending up in hospital.

"They say that somewhere between 10 and 25 per cent of hospital admissions are due to what's called non-compliance of the care plan," said Hampton. "Non-compliance isn't always that people just forgot. There are a whole bunch of other reasons, not the least of which is sometimes people can't afford their medication."

Hampton used to advise patients to write questions down before a medical appointment and to take a pen and paper. Not everyone travels around with paper and pen these days, but nearly everyone has a smartphone. Hampton now suggests using an app developed by Alberta Health Services called My Care Conversations.

"It was originally developed for cancer patients because the retention of information was so poor at a cancer appointment," said Hampton.

"You can be prompted with questions that you need to remember to ask in the appointment, you can record what your care provider is telling you, and then you can replay that over again at your leisure. And you can share that recording electronically with anybody else."

Patients pushing the frontier

This isn't just relevant for cancer patients, suggests Hampton.

"Any medical appointment that involves being given advice or instructions should be recorded and stored, particularly if you have more than one health provider or are keeping track of the care of a family member," she said, adding it's basic courtesy to inform your care provider that you will be recording the conversation.

"Knowing that what they are saying will be played back might also prompt your provider to organize the information they will be sharing with you in a different way.

"I would expect that as digital technology becomes more and more prevalent in clinical practice, everyone will become more comfortable with it. On this one, though, it may be patients pushing the frontier a little sooner than providers are, and that's OK because that puts us back in charge."

With files from Information Morning

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