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How Smart Do You Want Your Physician’s Phone?

April 14, 2014
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Smartphones will only get “smarter” and harder to live without.

Not too long ago we were all working diligently to deliver handheld solutions to physicians. It was a “mobile device” that would allow access to HIS, patient lists, and lab results. It was either an HP iPaq or some other device that required proprietary wireless connections or syncing with a cradle connection (really old school). I got to play with many different versions and we came very close at providing some very useful tools for clinicians. Those early adopters were trail blazing and ran into overzealous HIPAA security officers, lost devices, and syncing issues.

(My Personal Device Museum)

Fast forward to what physicians have today and you really get the perfect device. The smartphone integrates all the application features with their own personal needs. Full wireless capability, encryption, and internet access. Features that we actually take for granted now. So I have to ask: Where are all the killer healthcare mobile applications (apps)?

We have seen Epic, Athena and GE Healthcare provide free mobile version of their EMR for iPad and iPhone users. But we don’t see the market (users) really embracing that workflow. Part of the reason is that IT departments have stayed out of the “Apple” and mobile device support. These are personal devices and IT doesn’t want to be “responsible” for the support. Users are lucky if they get a handout with instructions on how to configure their phone to receive emails. But don’t ask about anything else. Some organizations are afraid to even allow Microsoft Exchange access. If they do, the HIPAA police comes along and tells IT that clinicians can’t access PHI on their personal device. They fear that information will be cached to storage. One step forward two steps back.

We have the perfect convergence to really utilize a piece of equipment to solve clinical workflow issues. Cheap devices, fully integrated into their lifestyle, capable of providing fast reliable access to systems, and the organization’s ability to reap additional ROI from their EMR. Yet we provide no training to use it and we don’t want to support it. It’s time to realize that just because you can’t asset tag it, does not mean that it does not bring added value to the organization. Smartphones will only get “smarter” and harder to live without.

With more vendors providing mobile application versions, we need to educate our HIPAA folks on how the device talks to our wireless networks and what cache capabilities each application requires. Most importantly, know how to restrict the data from permanent storage on each device. Lastly, you need to have a solid policy on performing screen captures or emailing captured sessions through their mobile devices. These were all the same issues we faced in the early days of mobile computing, only now the device hardware has caught up with the technology.