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Healthcare providers now routinely use mobile health applications in a variety of ways, helping to drive operational efficiencies and improvements in care.
However, for all of the progress made in this area, there is still a long ways to go. To truly take advantage of the potential healthcare benefits offered by mobile technology, hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices must take additional steps, and industry-wide attitudes may need to evolve.
Doctors' mobile habits
A recent MedData study highlighted the rapid growth of mobile solutions in the healthcare sector. The report surveyed 532 practicing doctors in the United States and found that of these, approximately two-thirds now use mobile applications in order to perform their jobs.
These apps varied significantly among respondents. Just shy of half said they utilize mobile technology during medication interactions, making this the most popular use. Other widely used healthcare apps included those focusing on diagnosis and access to electronic health records (EHRs). While fewer than 20 percent of participating doctors currently have access to mobile EHRs, 60 percent said they are interested in harnessing IT services and technology that will enable this ability in the near future.
The reasons why doctors use mobile apps are also diverse. Approximately 45 percent of respondents cited time efficiency, while a slightly smaller percentage pointed to cost efficiency. One-third said that mobile apps improve the quality and continuity of care they offer, while about 28 percent stated that these tools have a positive impact on patient communication.
Connectivity coming, but slowly
Doctors participating in the MedData survey suggested that a more fully connected healthcare system is on the horizon, and such an environment will yield a number of major benefits. Most notably, respondents indicated that they are looking forward to having instant access to patients' medical records.
Participants also cited the ability to upload vital patient data instantly, enabling immediate emergency alerts, as a key benefit to be gained from a more unified healthcare environment.
However, the study also found that doctors do not believe that a fully connected healthcare system will arrive quickly. Only 1 percent of respondents said that the American healthcare system is now ready to make the transition to a connected environment, while about one-third said that it will take between one and five years to reach this point. Almost 60 percent stated that more than five years will pass before the U.S. healthcare system is fully connected. Cost was the most frequently cited challenge, followed by technological limitations and providers' reluctance to change practice styles.
New strategies needed
Further exacerbating this issue is the approach that many healthcare providers adopt when it comes to how to deploy these solutions. As industry expert Judy Mottl recently highlighted for FierceMobileHealthcare, nurses tend to be at or near the bottom of the list in terms of which personnel receive mobile healthcare tools. This is problematic, according to Mottl, because nurses are typically the first and last staff members with whom patients interact. And throughout a person's stay, the nurse will play a key role that could be significantly improved by leveraging these IT services.
"Nurses are the bloodline when it comes to tracking patient's issues, monitoring treatment and keeping a vigilant watch on recovery," Mottl elaborated. "They're the ones collecting most of the data, taking vital signs and responding to unexpected crisis. Nurses dispense medicine and communicate with the medical team."
Mottl spoke with Gregg Malkary, an expert on communication in the healthcare sector, who emphasized that cost concerns frequently prevent hospitals from distributing mobile solutions to nurses and other non-doctor personnel. However, decision-makers are increasingly coming to realize that the costs incurred by failing to embrace these technologies are far greater than the cost to deploy.
"The benefits and return-on-investment for the patient, hospital staff and the healthcare provider are huge and range from quicker hospital stays (less costs for patients and payers) to greater operating efficiencies (eliminating paperwork and data entry tasks) to culling big savings on treatment follow-up and re-admittance costs," Mottl concluded.
This suggests that hospitals and other healthcare providers would be wise to increase their investment in mobile IT services as soon as possible.