Background

Translating research into practice, especially the implementation of digital health technologies in routine care, is increasingly important. Yet, there are few studies examining the challenges of implementing patient-facing digital technologies in health care settings.

Objective

The aim of this study was to report challenges experienced when implementing mobile apps for patients to support their postsurgical rehabilitation in an orthopedic setting.

Methods

A mobile app was tailored to the needs of patients undergoing rotator cuff repair. A 30-min usability session and a 12-week feasibility study were conducted with patients to evaluate the app in routine care. Implementation records (observation reports, issues log, and email correspondence) explored factors that hindered or facilitated patient acceptance. Interviews with clinicians explored factors that influenced app integration in routine care.

Results

Participant completion was low (47%, 9/19). Factors that affected patient acceptance included digital literacy, health status, information technology (IT) infrastructure at home, privacy concerns, time limitations, the role of a caregiver, inconsistencies in instruction received from clinicians and the app, and app advice not reflective of patient progress over time. Factors that negatively influenced app integration in routine care included competing demands among clinicians, IT infrastructure in health care settings, identifying the right time to introduce the app to patients, user interface complexity for older patients, lack of coordination among multidisciplinary clinicians, and technical issues with app installation.

Conclusions

Three insights were identified for mobile app implementation in routine care: (1) apps for patients need to reflect their journey over time and in particular, postoperative apps ought to be introduced as part of preoperative care with opportunities for patients to learn and adopt the app during their postoperative journey; (2) strategies to address digital literacy issues among patients and clinicians are essential; and (3) impact of the app on patient outcomes and clinician workflow needs to be communicated, monitored, and reviewed. Lastly, digital health interventions should supplement but not replace patient interaction with clinicians.