Smartphones and other mobile devices are becoming as prominent in health care settings as they are in other walks of life. That means physicians are now grappling with the benefits and implications.
The Electronic Age
So, what are physicians doing right now with mobile devices in their practices? Some 83 percent of them are using smartphones or tablets to perform tasks related to patient care. The most common activities are interfacing with an electronic health record (EHR), entering medical notes, e-prescribing, searching for clinical information, accessing professional resources and communicating with colleagues.
Following are four ways to use this technology to improve a physician practice:
1. Support clinical decision making.
Clinicians need to be able to access up-to-date clinical reference tools quickly and easily at the time they’re delivering care to patients. For instance, by using certain mobile apps, a physician can confirm his or her prescribing decisions, check for potential drug interactions, find treatment guidance such as symptom evaluation, differential diagnoses, and therapy options, and get an overview of recommended lab tests. By using a tablet or smartphone to enter data or update patient charts, a physician is able to concentrate on the patient without worrying about making entries later to an EHR from a desktop computer.
2. Enhance practice workflow.
A unique advantage of mobile technology is that it allows the physician-user to choose where to perform certain tasks most productively, whether it’s in or out of the office. When connected to the practice EHR, he or she can manage an email inbox, document recent patient encounters, view schedules and appointments, review patient charts, prescribe medications, read test results and complete dictation.
On the administrative side, smartphones and other mobile devices can be effective in the payment collection process, allowing mobile charge capture during the patient’s office visit. This offers the dual benefits of increased receivables and reduced costs.
3. Facilitate collaboration with care teams.
In coordinating care for a patient, teams must know in real time when a patient event has occurred. Text messaging is a familiar and efficient means of communicating this information. But there’s one caveat: There’s a good chance the messages will contain patient protected health information (PHI). Aggressive steps must be taken to ensure the security and inviolability of that information, steps that go beyond training employees on what they can and can’t do. This will likely include a secure text messaging solution that complies with HIPAA and HITECH requirements.
4. Promote patient engagement.
Patients expect to interact with their doctors and other providers through mobile devices. Some 68 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone and half of them use their phones to look up health or medical information. Furthermore, patient engagement is a stated goal of three major health care reform initiatives — Meaningful Use, Patient-Centered Medical Homes, and Accountable Care Organizations.
For example, Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program requires providers to implement technology that allows patients to view online, download and transmit their health information. Providers also must have the capability to communicate with patients via secure electronic messaging. These functions usually are handled by patient portals that can be accessed through both mobile and stationary devices.
Advantages for Patients and Practices
Patients can benefit from the technologies described above. They can check test results, refill prescriptions, review their medical records, view health promotion materials and check in for appointments. On the other hand, the practice may expect to see speedier administrative tasks such as registration, scheduling and patient reminders. The bottom line? Both patients and their physicians will likely feel more comfortable having secure, trouble-free connections with each other.
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