Bringing mobile health to the vulnerable
Randomly thrown together for a class assignment, students turn their passion for nursing into an altruistic tech company and are named Ohio State’s Student Innovators of the Year. Two of the five team members talk about their journey.
Summer semester for first-year grad entry nursing students includes a course in community health nursing that focuses on multiple issues affecting community and public health. Our instructor, Judy Donegan, tasked us with an open-ended, inquiry-based project to examine some aspect of community health nursing and to present to the rest of the class in a creative and unique way.
Our team came together somewhat randomly through an in-class selection process with an initial project topic of mobile technology devices as potential fomites (non-living objects of disease transmission). During our evidence-based inquiry we stumbled across the newer phenomenon of mHealth, or mobile technology delivered healthcare, and suspected that the availability of mHealth was severely lacking for vulnerable populations in Columbus and around the world.
As we continued to research and dig deeper into a suspected imbalance in health and wellness resource availabilities, we were surprised and motivated by the discovery that smartphone and mobile technology usage is consistent across all socioeconomic statuses.
While mHealth caters to individuals with more financial flexibilities and options, vulnerable populations have no real application technologies to help address their needs. During our clinical experiences throughout the semester, we all noticed a significant void for clients between resources needed and abilities to find them, and we saw a clear need to bring community health nursing into the 21st century for Columbus citizens. We all enrolled in nursing school because we have a sincere, deep and unending desire to help and care for any individuals in need, and nursing practice extends far beyond the bedside and into the community. If the health and wellness of vulnerable populations could benefit from an mHealth-oriented mobile application, then we felt our responsibilities as future nurses demanded we pursue any avenues possible in making it happen.
At this point in our research we quickly decided to abandon our initial topic and focus instead on creating an example, or even a prototype, of what a mobile application for Columbus’ vulnerable populations might look like to really help impress upon our audiences the need and capability in this aspect of community health nursing. After many hours spent finding and adding resources to our database, we launched our app to the Apple App Store and Android’s Google Play store in late July under the name “MobileYou.” MobileYou provides users with easy-to-use access to agencies and organizations providing social services to Columbus’ vulnerable populations. Users can find a number of available services including free meals, job placement, shelter information, affordable health clinics and much more.
The app allows users to find and navigate to these resources using Google Maps-based technology and provides links to affordable transportation options. As the app is centered on health and wellness promotion, users also can find free public events, support groups and Columbus Public Health information. We took specific measures to ensure that the app would remain free and confidential for any users while still allowing for open communication from users to help us improve the app to truly reflect the needs of the community. Before MobileYou, people in need would have to rely on social workers, fliers or word-of-mouth to find any information regarding resources.
While all of these options still present individuals with very viable means of accessing social resources, the information may not always be consistent or complete enough to really help individuals find what they need, when they need it. MobileYou provides a newfound capacity to find and contact virtually any resource they need with a simple, easy interface. And for the first time, Columbus’ vulnerable citizens are empowered with the capacity to find what they need, when they need it, on their own terms.
Immediately after the project, our instructor teamed us up with the College of Nursing’s IT office, which led to further conversations with the university’s Technology Commercialization Office. We were advised to begin the processes of developing our app as a company with a product, including the development of a website (www.mobileyoucolumbus.com) and social marketing strategies to help attract attention from potential users and organizations in the city that shared the same philosophy of getting as much to as many people as possible.
After only a few weeks spent trying to get the word out, we were contacted by local news agencies ABC 6/FOX 28 and were featured on air in a segment about our development process and where we envisioned the future of MobileYou.
As news began to spread about our innovation, multiple agencies and businesses within the city contacted us about being listed as a resource or even potentially partnering to help the app become as robust as possible while reaching as many people as possible. We have had conversations with larger outreach organizations like HandsOn and Jewish Family Service, as well as university and student-based organizations like ENCompass.
Because of developing word-of-mouth and fortunate timing, we were contacted by nurses in cities and communities outside of Columbus to help them with the development of their own mobile application to meet their specific community needs. While all of these developments continued to grow and amplify, faculty from the College of Nursing nominated us for Ohio State's 2015 Student Innovator of the Year Award, which we later won and received on Oct. 22.
MobileYou started as a class project, and were it not for the amazing support of the College of Nursing, the Technology Commercialization Office, the Office of Research and the entire university, the story likely would have ended there. However, due to the tremendous outpouring of support, guidance and assistance throughout the last few months, we now have short- and long-term goals for where we envision our app — and future iterations — to tread.
We’re continuing to work within the Columbus community but also to expand our message and project through involvement with nurses in other communities and through upcoming conference presentations. We see the app as the beginning of a national opportunity to connect vulnerable individuals to their communities through wellness-oriented approaches to life and living, and we intend to stay at the forefront of the conversation using the tremendous support we’re still receiving from the university as a springboard to larger and influential audiences.
It has been an incredible ride so far, and as excited as we are about where MobileYou came from, we’re even more excited about its potential and where it’s headed.