Mobile Health Care: Are We There Yet?

The other day, I wasn’t wearing my watch and I asked someone next to me for the time. He whipped out his new, sleek, black smartphone, swiped the screen and told me the time. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I was expecting a flick of the wrist and a peek at a watch. Do people use watches to tell time anymore? What does a 4.3” WVGA touchscreen with 1Ghz T1OMAP processor, 8GB of memory and 16GB of swappable memory got to do with telling time—even making a phone call? Is that not why we have a phone—to make phone calls?

These days, we have “phones” so we can tweet from the depths of the Grand Canyon, see photos of our neighbor’s best friend’s long forgotten kindergarten classmate’s dog Rufus—and do both things at the same time. I don’t have anything against Rufus (he is cute, by the way), I’m just overwhelmed by the availability of information at our fingertips. It used to take days to get a photo developed and then take another several days in the mail before we could share photos. These days, it takes seconds.

What is really disturbing is that it takes seconds to see Rufus’ face, but it takes my chiropractor the better part of a month to obtain X-rays from a hospital ER after I’d slipped and fallen on the ice and injured my wrist.

Bringing Health Care to the Digital Era

How do we change this? How do we manage a health care system that’s filled with paperwork, filing cabinets, storage centers, archival depots? How do we gather all that data, sift through the information and convert it to knowledge that we can benefit from? How are we going to make sure it’s secure? Did I mention we should make it mobile?

As we transition away from paper records and towards electronic records, hospital administrators and clinicians see firsthand the benefits of data access and capture at the point of care (POC). As a result, health care delivery is becoming increasingly more mobile. Because of the need to increase the quality and efficiency of care while decreasing the cost of care delivery, mobility is seen as a key enabler of POC solutions. Health care professionals routinely and increasingly use mobile devices to access and review patient records and test results, enter diagnosis such as CPT or ISC -10 Codes and update billing information during patient visits. They can also consult drug formularies and other reference material, as well as synchronize information with their organizations’ centralized systems—all without the need for wired network connections to place orders to pharmacies, labs etc.

Emergence of Mobile-Optimized Health Care Devices

It won’t be long before you’ll monitor your weight, blood pressure, pulse and other vitals on at-home devices that send data to doctors, in real time, via your smartphone. If there is a notable change in vital signs or other information, a notice that an office visit is required or personalized directions based on your unique data will be sent to you, also via smartphone. There may even be instructions to report to the nearest ER.

Physicians and patients are in the process of learning how to migrate to this new digital and mobile medical world. If you look closely at the incipient changes digital technology has made already in health care, it is clear, given the rapid state of development of new devices and communications systems, where medicine is headed. Steered correctly, technology could cure a great deal of our health care woes and subsequently lower costs.

Understanding the Risks

These benefits are appealing and impressive from both health care delivery and back-office business perspectives. The proliferation of a wide variety of mobile device types at the point of care, however, makes management teams in many health care organizations nervous. I can understand why: they’re ultimately responsible for the proper, accurate and confidential collection and protection of a broad range of data.

Technology and health care industry experts acknowledge that the move to digital health is unnerving to people concerned about privacy, the cyber theft of records, and the loss of human contact with health care providers. Many of us, including people who use watches to tell time, have a hard time wrapping our minds around this transformation.

The Future

That said, the “one gadget that replaces it all” phenomenon is here to stay. The same technology that transmits Rufus’ face across the country in mere seconds is the same technology that has the potential to help patients and doctors access records more quickly and safely and does not add mountains of paper to landfills.

With this blog, I’d like to start a dialogue about health care and EMR (electronic medical records), about health care and mobility, about health care and security in the digital age.

I welcome your thoughts on these and other topics affecting the health care industry.
Bindu Sundaresan Strategic Security Solutions Lead AT&T About Bindu