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Health and medical app research recognised with top award

Dr Oyuka Byambasuren with her children Tengis, 12, and Gerel, 8. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn

Researching the effectiveness of popular health and medical apps has proven a prescription for academic success for Bond University’s Oyuka Byambasuren.

Four years of fulltime study culminated for Dr Byambasuren when she graduated with her PhD, alongside receiving the Vice Chancellor’s Doctoral Award in recognition of an exceptional doctoral thesis.

Dr Byambasuren canvased the views of GPs on health apps and their suitability for day-to-day usage as part of their practice.

“The most important barrier they had facing them was because of the sheer number of apps out there, they were overwhelmed. They did not know which ones were safe to use and did not have the time and skills to find out for themselves.”

She said what doctors wanted was a source they could trust, such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), to promote apps which had been vetted, were safe and had been shown to be effective.

To start addressing the issue, Dr Byambasuren developed prescription pads for GPs containing details of appropriate apps, which could help with certain conditions or behaviour changes. Each pad contained details of where to download the app, who developed it, and any costs associated with it.

She distributed the pads to 40 GPs over four months in an Australian-first study, leading to 1300 apps being prescribed, double the previously surveyed amount.

After subsequently interviewing the GPs for feedback, it became clear that paper pads were neither sustainable nor scalable, and GPs preferred an electronic resource which would allow them to either print off pads or email an electronic version to patients.

Dr Byambasuren said while other countries had tried similar things, such a platform did not yet exist in Australia, but she was interested to explore the possibility of setting something up, potentially through the RACGP.

“I would love to create an app library for GPs to use in practice, but I need funding.”

She said through her research she had gained insight into the potential impact of apps in the healthcare sector, however patients still needed to work with medical professionals.

“We now know patients and doctors really want to use apps, we just have to help them.

“Apps alone are probably not strong enough to play a prominent role in our daily life, but when there’s accountability and follow-up with health professionals, that seems to make a difference.

“It matters more how we use the app than what app we use. If you use it consistently, you will get results,” she said.

In the meantime, however, she’s looking forward to continuing with her work as a post-doctoral research fellow at Bond’s Institute of Evidence-Based Healthcare, alongside spending more time with her children Tengis, 12, and Gerel, 8.

“They went on this journey with me, they really did.”

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