HealthOctober 26, 2017

How can your smartphone help your liver?

More than 80% of Americans across all socioeconomic levels have smartphones, so it makes perfect sense to turn this technology into an ally for our patients to better understand and manage their liver disease. An informed and educated patient will partner with the medical team to get the best results possible from the recommended treatments!

By Annmarie Laipakis, MD and Simona Jakab, MD

These are 3 easy ways for patients to use their smartphone for their liver health.

First: Many electronic medical record systems have a patients’ portal which can be easily used with a smartphone and offers many services, such as access to test results, secure electronic communications with medical providers, updating the medication list and reminders about what each medication is used for. Also, telehealth can be used through the portal, which allows video encounters for patients who cannot come to the clinic in person.

Second: There are so many apps out there! Many smartphones come with preloaded basic apps to track calories, salt intake, or activity. Keeping a food log for a week is an easy way for patients with fatty liver disease to become aware of the highest caloric foods in their diet and make smarter choices. The same applies for patients who have to watch their salt intake, for example patients with cirrhosis (advanced scarring of the liver) who could get fluid buildup in their legs or abdomen from salt and who have to keep their sodium under 2 000 mg/day. Also, when it comes to the “exercise prescription”, we can get very specific and quantify how much to do, in steps, miles, or flights, and the app tracks all of those!

Third: smartphones literally bring information to your thumbs! Patients on the waitlist for liver transplantation face agonizing decisions:

  • Which transplant center should I choose?
  • Should I consider living-donor liver transplantation?
  • How to find a donor?

Smartphones help patients and families find and understand important data related to liver transplantation. This ranges from instant calculation of the MELD score (the score used to place patients on the waitlist), to details about how a transplant center compares with another in terms of success, survival, and rate of transplant (SRTR: Scientific Registry for Transplant Recipients). Some patients use social media to connect with friends and family members who could potentially be evaluated as living donors

Not everybody will eagerly embrace their smartphone as a healthcare team member, but people surprise you! A patient who kept forgetting to bring a complete medication list for review showed up the other day in clinic and proudly swiped to show us his smartphone’s pictures of his medication bottles!

This is just the beginning – smartphones are already used for chronic disease management to track symptoms and alert providers to address early abnormalities before they become problems requiring emergency room visits.

Education and improved health literacy empowers our patients and helps them understand how to follow their treatment plan. It also improves their satisfaction with their care. Current advances in technology make the logistics of providing that education feasible. Take advantage of it!

Annmarie Liapakis, MD is a transplant hepatologist at the Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center. She’s the co-chair of Donate Life Connecticut and an executive committee member of the board of the Connecticut Division of the American Liver Foundation. She’s passionate about patient education and raising awareness regarding liver disease, transplantation, and organ donation.

Sofia Simona Jakab, MD is a hepatologist and clinician-educator at Yale University and VA Connecticut Healthcare System. She is an fervent advocate for expanding the access to optimal liver care by increased education and engagement of both patient/family and medical providers.


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