02/21/2014 12:51 EST | Updated 04/23/2014 05:59 EDT

The Mobile App That Helps Patients Monitor Their Own Recovery

Dr. Joshua Liu is a co-founder and CEO of Seamless Mobile Health, which lets patients monitor their recovery after surgery with a mobile app -- and get help when they need it.

Dr. Joshua Liu knows a good idea when he sees one. And, he has a knack for turning good ideas into practice. Liu is a co-founder and CEO of Seamless Mobile Health, which lets patients monitor their recovery after surgery with a mobile app -- and get help when they need it.

The app helps patients avoid the demoralizing journey back to the hospital they just left. It could also greatly reduce health care costs: hospitals in Canada readmit more than 40,000 patients a year after surgery, costing more than $420 million.

Seamless won top prize at the 2013 Canadian e-Health apps challenge, and earlier this year Forbes named Liu one of its Top 30 Under 30 in science and health care. The company recently launched its app at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, and will start a local roll-out at Toronto East General Hospital this spring.

Liu, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto medical school, spoke with Faculty of Medicine writer Jim Oldfield about what mobile technology can do for medicine.

How does your technology improve health care?

Time is a big problem in hospitals. Surgeons and nurses are incredibly busy, and only have a few minutes to educate patients before they're discharged home. As well, patients don't always recall verbal instructions accurately, or when they get written instructions, they may lose them or not read them all. With our app, we engage patients to monitor for early warning signs after surgery, and automate instructions on what to do next in their recovery. We've found that patients respond better to active engagement, and to receiving bite-sized education -- especially if it's delivered right when they need it.

Other mobile health solutions provide a similar function. How is yours different?

Our platform gives patients immediate feedback, so they can self-manage smaller concerns, or know which medical professional to contact for help if their symptoms worsen. Other mobile health solutions require hospitals to monitor every patient's data --our platform offers that option, but we also enable hospitals with fewer human resources to use smart algorithms that allow the app to give automated, real-time feedback. We also provide an analytics module that enables health care providers to assess quality metrics and measure how well they care for patients over time.

What would be the benefit of those analytics?

Right now, the patient experience after surgery is a black box -- we have no idea what happens between the time they leave the hospital and their follow-up visit with their surgeon several weeks later. By collecting data, our platform fills this gap and will pick up useful insights, opening a window on the patient journey toward recovery. Hospitals can use this data to do pretty advanced analytics, such as predict the likelihood of surgical complications. They can then make data-driven decisions to improve their quality of care.

Why did you choose the U.S. to begin the roll-out of your technology?

The drivers for adopting technology in the U.S. are stronger. For example, beginning in October 2014, Obamacare will impose penalties on hospitals for certain surgical readmissions. Canadian health care funding models are moving towards value-based health care, but the move is not as aggressive. That said, we continue to find leaders, like Toronto East General Hospital, who want to pave the way for health care innovation.

Jim Oldfield is a writer with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.