1. McCartney, Patricia PhD, RNC, FAAN

Article Content

Mobile tablets, used in many aspects of everyday life, are now widely used in healthcare and referred to as mHealth. A number of mHealth software applications have been designed for patients to enter information on tablets and researchers are eagerly extending these applications for patients to enter information on tablets as a method of data collection. Researchers are replacing paper patient surveys or questionnaires with dedicated mobile tablet devices maintained by the research team.


Because the digital world is constantly evolving, various terms are used for the software designed for use on mobile tablets. The medical subject heading (MeSH) index term is "mobile applications," defined as "computer programs or software installed on mobile electronic devices," but "mobile applications" is also listed as interchangeable with the term "mobile app" (National Library of Medicine, 2015). Lack of standard terms makes it difficult to conduct a literature search, to describe and report research, and to catalog research reports for effective dissemination about the method. At this time, medical informatics experts prefer to use the term "app" (Lewis, Boissaud-Cooke, Aungst, & Eysenbach, 2014).


Few literature reports or research texts are found to guide nurses in using tablets. Is this a feasible method? What are the benefits and challenges of data collection with mobile tablets? One team of nurse researchers found four core issues arose while conducting a study that used mobile devices for patient data collection: logistics of the technology (connectivity and infection control), data security (ethics review for privacy and confidentiality), institutional and financial support (hardware expense, software design, information technology support), and electronic design (applications with patient friendly screens) (Schick-Makaroff & Molzahn, 2015).


Benefits of using tablet apps include more efficient patient completion of surveys in real-time at the point of care; environmental benefit of a paperless option; patient satisfaction with tablet method; immediate data entry, scoring, and retrieval of data; avoiding errors in data entry; and in some cases, educational materials for patients can be tailored to questionnaire scores. A number of commercial patient data collection platforms provide images and engaging screens superior to typical text-based online survey links. Challenges of using tablet apps include the planning effort required to address all technology, security, and expense issues; ensuring infection control; and researcher time and sensitivity to provide patient privacy during data entry while maintaining security of the research team tablet.


In addition to the standard research rigor required for any survey methodology, some specific strategies are offered from the literature and networking with researchers who have used tablet apps:


* Seek professional patient software design for clear and appealing screens with password protection


* Use full size 8" x 12" tablets and single-use touch sensitive disposable plastic tablet sleeves for infection control


* Identify a process for oversight or tethering of the tablets during patient use


* Keep surveys short, less than 10 minutes, with touch-screen close-ended questions


* Develop a plan for providing privacy with the tablet and security of the research team tablet


* Develop a clear explanation of the procedure for patients that all members of the research team will use


* Pilot test the complete process with team members and representative patients


* Network with colleagues who have used tablet apps



Consider using tablet apps for maternal-child nursing research and be sure to explore these benefits, challenges, and strategies in your planning. Disseminate your successes and challenges in the literature!




Lewis T. L., Boissaud-Cooke M. A., Aungst T. D., Eysenbach G. (2014). Consensus on use of the term "App" versus "Application" for reporting of mHealth research. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(7), e174. doi:10.2196/jmir.3460 [Context Link]


National Library of Medicine. (2015). Medical subject headings. Retrieved from[Context Link]


Schick-Makaroff K., Molzahn A. (2015). Strategies to use tablet computers for collection of electronic patient-reported outcomes. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 13, 2. doi:10.1186/s12955-014-0205-1 [Context Link]