By Shashi Tripathi
Integrating mobile health applications into current hospital and care-provider systems will be a critical success factor in the move to reform healthcare and provide greater access to care at lower cost.
The pervasiveness of mobile communications technology will revolutionize healthcare over the next decade. Everyone has some type of mobile device today, and they are increasingly becoming integrated into the fabric of society at both the personal and professional levels. According to a 2009 study by Manhattan Research, 64 percent of doctors in the United States carry a smartphone or PDA, an increase of 28 percent since 2005. The percentage of smartphone adoption among doctors is expected to grow as mobile browsing capabilities improves, allowing doctors to complete more complex tasks remotely. Patients also are benefiting from the digital health trend. In the same report, 39 percent of doctors interact with their patients online, providing a new point of care.
As the United States and other nations struggle to control rising healthcare costs and achieve better outcomes, mobile healthcare promises to deliver greater efficiency in collaboration and information sharing among doctors, nurses and hospital administrators. Integrating mobile health applications into current hospital and care-provider systems will be a critical success factor in the move to reform healthcare and provide greater access to care at lower cost. This demands a new way of thinking and a new way of providing healthcare.
Mary, a patient at a hospital, wears a heart monitor. Her physician sets up a communications alert to ensure he is notified if the monitor goes off. At 10 p.m. it does. The nurse on duty is notified immediately on an in-house wireless telephone and quickly assists Mary. But the doctor needs to be alerted, too. The technology behind the scenes instantly checks the communication rules regarding whom to contact, where, and on what device. The system indicates that Mary's doctor left the hospital at 9 p.m., so an urgent message goes to his smartphone instead of his onsite pager. If it's not read quickly, a text-to-speech message is sent to his home phone. If unanswered, the contact center agent is notified and the message is escalated to another on-call physician.
Sound futuristic? It isn't. Since everyone is mobile and uses different varieties of communications devices, reaching the right person in a time of critical need can be a complex process. Technology with intelligence is the key to patient care, safety and satisfaction - as well as optimized work flow and staff efficiency.
The potential of communications has expanded beyond the realm of simply making a connection between two people in static locations. In healthcare, a myriad of clinical, safety, and other communication systems constantly generates updates, alerts and key pieces of information. This is in addition to the medical staff's ongoing need to connect directly with one another to collaborate on patient care. But unless the right data is gathered and delivered to the right person, at the right time, on the right communications device, it's useless. People and technology now need to communicate flawlessly to speed response times and keep safety and satisfaction at the forefront.
Given the vast amount of information in the healthcare system, the way organizations communicate needs to change every minute - but seamlessly and behind the scenes - in order to rally the right caregivers to help patients. Doctors go in and out of surgery and staffing assignments change around the clock. So when a patient comes to the emergency department with heart attack symptoms in the middle of the night, can the right people be gathered quickly? Patients' lives depend on the coordination and management of details like this.
Some of the common processes in Health IT include:
- Use of electronic health records (for patients, physicians, insurers, hospitals and clinics);
- Health information exchanges across industries and geographies;
- Use of electronic health information to detect trends in population and public health; and
- Transmission of medication refills and a patient's prescription history.
With the patient taking the center stage, there will be need for more on-demand access to healthcare. A shortage of healthcare professionals, greater incidence of chronic conditions and rising healthcare costs are adding pressure on healthcare to innovate more.
This pressure to innovate is further compounded by the following factors:
- Significant increase in the U.S. population - estimated growth of 20 percent (to 363 million) between 2008-2030;
- Shortage of healthcare professionals being educated, trained and licensed;
- Increasing incidence of chronic diseases around the world, including diabetes, congestive heart failure and obstructive pulmonary disease;
- Need for efficient care of the elderly, home-bound, and physically challenged patients;
- Lack of specialists and health facilities in rural areas;
- Adverse events, injuries and illness at hospitals; and
- Need to improve community and population health.
In the last decade, the Internet and mobile communications technology has vastly changed our lives and how we interact with each other. Because of the pressure to increase access, reduce costs and achieve healthier outcomes, the healthcare industry is poised to benefit significantly from mobile innovation over the next decade.
Historically, healthcare has been conservative when it comes to technology. Due mainly to its sheer need for privacy, security and dealing with human lives, the industry was not inclined to take risks on new technologies and new processes. However, in later part of the last decade, the industry realized it needed technology to reduce cost, improve patient care and, in certain cases, help save lives. Anywhere and anytime point-of-care solutions may not happen instantly, but all the signs are suggesting that the future of mobile healthcare holds tremendous promise.
About the author
Shashi Tripathi is vice president of product management at Agnity. For more information on Agnity solutions, click here.