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Mobile Healthcare Anywhere

February 21, 2011
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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A Proliferation of Mobile Devices Means Specific Wireless Challenges for Healthcare Organizations

Will form factor issues be resolved as clinicians move forward to embrace the use of mobile devices for a growing list of patient care delivery tasks?

As the mobile healthcare market is still in its infancy compared to other markets, there seems to be no consensus exactly what to do with the mobile devices -smartphones, tablets, and every other type of device-that are flooding into healthcare. Although everyone agrees that mobile devices will be a centerpiece of healthcare delivery-in some cases devices being brought into hospitals and medical office settings by clinicians themselves, while in other cases, being provided to them by their organizations-it's still early for IT leadership to agree on whether to employ a tethered or untethered approach or how best to access and enter information on a smaller screen.

ONE THING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE IS WHETHER WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A SMARTPHONE OR TABLET THAT IS REALLY OPTIMIZED FOR MOBILE DATA ACCESS, RATHER THAN DATA ENTRY.-CHRIS LONGHURST, M.D.

Evidence for clinician readiness to embrace such devices is everywhere. To take just one example, 85 percent of hospitals have launched wireless networks, notes Gregg Malkary, managing director of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Spyglass Consulting Group. The challenge, though, remains that mobile devices in the healthcare setting are still seen as data access points, rather than data entry devices, and many organizations are taking divergent approaches in how to support these clinical tools.

Those interviewed for this article agree that smartphones are ideal for engaging in such tasks as viewing patient records, test results, and medical content on the go. Fran Turisco, research principal in the emerging practices division at CSC, says the smartphone is a perfect device for accessing training tools. She cites that vendors are creating iPhone apps that prepare nurses for competency exams, provide information and tutorials on medical procedures, and offer continuing education.

Meanwhile, core clinical IT vendors are moving forward to address the clinician mobility needs of hospital organizations as well. For example, Leland Babitch, M.D., chief medical information officer at Detroit Medical Center, notes that the Kansas City-based Cerner Corp. has created a mobile version of its inpatient EHR (with Cerner's innovation being just one of many such new vendor adaptations for the new mobility). “There are limitations based on the size and the way in which data is input into the device,” he says. “It won't be that people will be using this for heavy ordering or for complete review of a record, but if someone calls and I'm at Costco with my kids, and they have a question about a patient, I can quickly open the app and see what's going on.” Chris Longhurst, M.D., CMIO at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.), adds: “One thing that is important to acknowledge is whether we're talking about a smartphone or tablet that is really optimized for mobile data access, rather than data entry.”

As for the preferred smartphone among clinicians, most believe it to be the iPhone, with its cool cache, coupled with built-in GPS and easy user interface. But many in the industry feel the Android operating system is gaining mind and market share, with its availability on multiple carriers. (However, now that the iPhone has come out on the Verizon network that point might be a moot.)

FORM FACTOR

The iPad will most likely prove to be a game-changer in the healthcare setting, according to Longhurst, who believes this form of tablets is here to stay. Where tablets failed in the past due to inefficient light pens and short battery life, the iPad has improved with a touch interface and enviable battery life, he says. “In fact we're seeing a lot of Android tablets coming out locally here in the Valley,” Longhurst says. “I think they'll become an important part of physician workflow. In order to see electronic health records at the tablet level, the 7- to 9-inch range, we're going to have to see a fairly dramatic rewrite of software interfaces.”

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