What is the role of mobile devices in healthcare?

Integrating technology is an important but daunting task for some providers. Smaller practices in particular may not have the bandwidth or budget to bring in new devices or systems. Fortunately the rise of mobile devices has made a dramatic impact in lowering the barriers to health IT access as well as given patients new tools for taking responsibility for personal health.

Because mobile devices can pair with EHR software, revenue cycle management platforms and other tools, physicians can complete day-to-day tasks with great ease and flexibility. There are, however, critical concerns related to this trend. Here's the latest on mobile in healthcare:

The adoption of mobile
At present, 25 percent of physicians use smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to deliver care to patients, according to Great Call. A physician can easily use a smartphone or tablet to access a patient's EHR and gain a more intimate insight into his or her health history. After the appointment a follow up via email can be sent or a doctor can easily fill a prescription. 

Personal health apps are also driving a mobile revolution in healthcare. A whopping 93 percent of physicians believe that fitness tracking and weight loss apps can contribute to improved patient health, and there is the possibility that these may be shared with a physician for greater coordination of care. Digital prescription management, patient portal apps and other developments only serve to reinforce how powerful mobile can be in healthcare. By the end of 2017, the use of mobile in healthcare as well as the growth of personal health apps could push the market for mobile health solutions to $26 billion.

Why mobile matters
Research published by the National Institutes of Health outlined why mobile devices are so useful for providers. These simple systems offer a wide-array of tools and software. Voice-capture, email, text messaging and video conferencing may seem like mundane features, but for smaller organizations especially, smartphones and tablets offer a means of streamlining communication and increasing collaborative efforts.

Mobile devices can also serve to make modern health IT solutions more user-friendly and accessible. The adoption of EHRs, Clinical decision support networks, RCM software and many other tools is made much more effective and reliable when paired with mobile solutions. Information is condensed, shareable and mobile with the use of smartphones or tablets, giving both health professionals and administrators greater flexibility. Importantly, mobile devices aren't prohibitively expensive. For providers, this makes adopting modern IT solutions an accessible and viable option.

Being cost-effective is also an important consideration for patients. In a single generation mobile devices have made internet access widespread, and this is helping fuel a new era of awareness and preventative health. There are nearly 100,000 health apps currently available that serve a number of purposes. These can be used by someone living with diabetes store and track glucose levels or offer families resources for eating healthy. 

Coordination among physicians and patients using mobile devices is equally impressive. Patient portals, improved communication and greater access allow for targeted patient plans and care that is better coordinated. At the same time, providers can send text message alerts about scheduling or outstanding bills, bypassing paper mail or voice messages.

Possible concerns
The quick rise of mobile in healthcare has unfortunately caused new security concerns for the industry. As Skycure reported, a large portion of doctors often share patient data outside of secure servers. In fact, 65 percent of doctors were found to exchange private information via text message, while 33 percent used the third-party app Whatsapp.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has careful rules for protecting digital patient data, but there is evidence that there is information about the security of mobile devices. Unsecured apps can present openings to hackers, while there are any number of other tricks that can be used to access passwords and health networks more broadly. Providers must work with staff to establish protocols and expectations related to appropriate, secure behavior when using a mobile device.

Unfortunately, another important concern is simply misplacing a smartphone or tablet. These are small enough that it isn't uncommon for a device to be lost or even stolen. From there even the best security measures can be undermined completely. Mobile is rapidly changing and improving healthcare, but there are concerns that must be addressed to protect patients and providers.

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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