Department of Medicine 2016 Tech Challenge

New Uses of Information Technology to Advance the Missions of the Department of Medicine

There’s an App for That: Developing and Building a UCSF Health Smartphone App to Enhance Communication with Patients and Improve the Patient Experience

Idea Status: 

Authors: Catherine Lau, James Harrison, Sarah Imershein


UCSF Health is committed to being the best provider of health care services and has dedicated many resources to improving the patient and family experience. Although the focus of improvement efforts has been communication coaching for providers and improving the provider experience, UCSF Health and other healthcare organizations have also begun leveraging information technology (e.g. MyChart, OpenNotes) to further empower patients and families with the goal of improving overall patient experience and health outcomes.  

The idea of further leveraging information technology to improve the patient and family experience also comes from patients and families themselves. A recent patient and family focus group strongly recommended that UCSF build a smart phone application that would allow them to be better informed about their care while being hospitalized. A separate Patient and Family Advisory Council at UCLA also made this recommendation and took this a step further by working with their local IT experts in developing an easy-to-use, intuitive, and informative smart phone application that is currently available for download from the iTunes store. The UCLA application has received rave reviews by patients, families, and healthcare providers.


We propose that the Department of Medicine develop and build a UCSF Health smart phone application with the aim of enhancing existing provider communication with patients and families while also better supporting patients and families when they receive care at UCSF Health. The initial app development will include adult inpatient medicine and any ambulatory practices or other departments/divisions that wish to participate. As the needs and wishes of inpatient and outpatient providers and patients will be different, separate “landing pages” for each clinic or division would be built within the app.

 Different sections of the smartphone app will include:

  • Healthcare team members: This would include the multi-disciplinary healthcare team’s pictures and short biographies. The information listed here could be similar to that of existing paper provider facecards.
  • Common conditions / diseases: This would include information on common conditions /diseases that are treated by that particular clinic or inpatient medical team as well as the usual, expected treatment plan. This section will require vetting from clinical liaisons to ensure accurate information and will also need to be written at an appropriate patient literacy level.
  • My Treatment Timeline: This section would outline pending lab or imaging tests that their provider(s) have ordered as well as the timeline for completion of the tests. Active medications would also be listed here.
  • Contact information for clinic or nursing station
  • Nearby ATMs, restaurants, pharmacies
  • Directory of Hospital / Clinic Services: This would include brief descriptions and contact information for spiritual care, café/cafeteria hours, gift shop hours, interpreter services, and service excellence.
  • Patient Notes: This would be an area where patients can record healthcare provider voice instructions or take pictures using technology already on all smart phones.
  • MyChart: A direct link to MyChart to allow users to access their medical record.


As mentioned above, a very similar smartphone app has already been developed and built with the direct input of patients and families at UCLA and can be downloaded at this link: We have relationships with individuals at UCLA who were involved in building and launching the app, and can help ensure that the UCSF build team does not have to start from scratch in this ambitious project.

Linking APeX to the app to allow for “My Treatment Timeline” and “MyChart” sections above may be a harder challenge, but has been done at UCLA with success.

Lastly, there will need to be a publicity campaign to ensure that patients and families are aware of the app.


We propose implementing this technology as a randomized control trial that would involve inpatient medicine teams and ambulatory clinics that wish to participate. Teams and clinics would be randomized over a 3-6 month period with half promoting the use of the UCSF Health smartphone app while the other half would continue to promote the use of MyChart alone (existing standard of care). We would collect qualitative outcomes of patient/family and provider survey data and quantitative outcomes using HCAHPS and CGCAHPs Likelihood to Recommend Scores.  If a RCT is not feasible to implement, then a pre-post test design will be used. 

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