Smartphone and tablet use by healthcare practitioners continues to steadily increase as technology becomes more pervasive. Of Physicians, Psychiatrists, Nurse Practitioners and Physician’s Assistants surveyed in a recent Epocrates study, 84% reported using at least one kind of mobile technology in their practice, while almost 50% of all healthcare providers are utilizing tablets, smart phones,andcomputers as part of their job (Information Week, 2013).
66% of healthcare providers say that they use mobile technology to access electronic health records (EHR), and 33% report using devices to access information or diagnostic support (eWeek, 2013). EHR platforms available through major companies like Allscripts, Cerner, eClinicalWorks, Epic, GE Healthcare, McKesson, MEDITECH, and Siemens provide technology for in-house use, though many clinicians are opting to bring their own devices to work, a practice known to the industry as “BYOD”. Incorporating smart phone and tablet technology into medicine makes sense, especially in today’s ultra-connected world.
Employing the efficient technology of mobile devices in healthcare seems obvious to most. Paper-based records are cumbersome and time-intensive to maintain, and legibility issues increase the probability of medical errors. EHRs can be updated constantly and keep healthcare providers with the most up-to-date information about patients. Allowing physicians to utilize devices to access clinically relevant information on-the-go allows doctors to stay current with new research and treatments, as well as affirm their own knowledge. However, with each new frontier in medicine comes new challenges to overcome and the use of mobile technologies is no different.
Mobile technology concerns and solutions
The downside to small and discreet technology is that it's easy to lose or likely to be stolen. Technology used in the clinical setting accesses or stores secure patient information that under HIPAA laws must remain inaccessible to non-essential personnel, other patients, or patient acquaintances. Thus, security issues remain a pressing concern for device use, particularly in BYOD situations.
In order to address this, many clinics and hospitals have in place regulations about the types information accessible on through diffident mediums. Aruba Networks surveyed healthcare workers in early 2012, finding that 85% of institutions had BYOD policies, which detail restrictions to the kind of data accessible on personal devices (iHealthBeat, 2013). HIPAA also sets forth requirements for healthcare settings utilizing mobile technology, including access controls like passwords and pin numbers, encryption of stored information, and an ‘audit trail’ with records of who accessed what information or made changes. Any potential breaches are required to be reported to the patient(s).
For some, the sheer number of apps available for healthcare professionals to use on mobile devices creates the potential for problems. Multiple applications offering slightly different information could create inconsistencies with different healthcare professionals utilizing different apps.
In an interview to Healthcare Finance News, Gautam Gulati, MD of Marlborough, Mass.-based Physicians Interactive says that the solution is creating an interconnected app situation in which the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. He believes that app developers and healthcare-specific mobile technology software manufacturers should work together in creating useful applications that communicate with each other and contain uniform, streamlined information (HealthcareFinanaceNews, 2013).
Another concerning issue with mobile technology is the possibility that tablets which are ported from one exam room to the other are potential vehicles of disease transmission. Healthcare practitioners are all too aware of the potential for spreading germs between patients, and are trained in frequent hand washing, the use of personal protective equipment in the appropriate settings, and sterilizing instruments. Just as people outside of the clinical setting can carry germs on their clothes, shoes, or skin, so can doctors.
Upgrading healthcare information technologies, while ever focused on continual improvement in patient care, are not without their challenges. Even with all of the beneficial ways tablets are being implemented, healthcare workers cannot ignore the potential spread of germs through these devices. Frequent cleaning disinfection will always be necessary to ensure the safety of both patients and clinical staff.
About the Author
Dana Carter, PhD is an academically trained, experimental neuroscientist. Currently, Dana is a science writer who focuses on different aspects of psychology, physiology, and overall health and wellness. Prior to her current role, she spent a combined seven years researching the genetic components of mental illnesses, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on fetal brain development. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience and her B.Sc. in Psychology from Texas A&M University. She enjoys traveling, writing, and promoting learning about healthy, active minds and lifestyles.
“47% Of Doctors Use Smartphone, Tablet And PC -- InformationWeek.”InformationWeek. Accessed September 5, 2013. http://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/mobile-wireless/47-of-doctors-use-smartphone-tablet-and/240159974.
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“Tablet Manageability, Security Concern Health Care Professionals: Dell.” Accessed September 5, 2013. http://www.eweek.com/mobile/tablet-manageability-security-concern-health-care-professionals-dell/.