Mobile Health: Why Physicians, Hospitals Should Overcome Reluctance

In general, healthcare consumers have embraced mobile health positively due to its prevalence, convenience and portability. According to a study conducted for PwC Global Healthcare by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 52 percent of consumers predict that within the next three years, mobile health will improve the convenience, cost and quality of their healthcare.

Physicians may be reluctant to embrace mHealth
However, physicians are more cautious about mHealth, citing care and reimbursement as concerns. For instance, according to the study, 49 percent of respondents said existing reimbursement structures are a barrier, while 44 percent cited privacy and security issues. Sixty-four percent of physicians said that mHealth offers exciting possibilities, but there are too few proven business models.

The variations in use may be a reason that physicians and consumers view mHealth differently. For patients, mHealth enables them to view test results, ask a physician a question or schedule an appointment. For physicians, it could mean entering patient orders, taking notes on diagnoses and analyzing lab work. Jon Dreyer, senior manager for mobile solutions at Nuance Healthcare, a provider of health information technology solutions, believes there are two main reasons that physicians may be more reluctant than consumers to embrace mHealth.

1. Badly designed interfaces, low applicability to physician workflow. According to Mr. Dreyer, physicians may be reluctant to work with mHealth because without the right interface, an app could be useless. It is important mHealth applications have a well-designed interface that is intuitive and runs seamlessly with the hospital's information system. "Physicians need apps that are designed and built for specific tasks, but on the other hand, if the app is too focused, it can't contribute beneficially to the physician's workflow; it is too disruptive to be worthwhile. An app with a well designed and flexible interface is the perfect marriage between specific capabilities and general applicability," says Jon Dreyer of Nuance Healthcare.

As the mHealth movement progresses, newer generations of apps should have more sophisticated interfaces that could work seamlessly with hospital information systems. "We are seeing new versions [of mobile apps] that have more functionality. Physicians are more accepting to this. I think that the response to mHealth is going to be increasingly positive. [The initial reluctance] might derive from a bad experience — the perception is different depending on who you speak with," says Mr. Dreyer.  

2. Sensitivity to security issues. With mobile health there is a never-ending concern about privacy and security. While this issue may never be fully eradicated in everyone's minds, it may be generally overcome. "Most manufacturers of mobile apps have at least 256-bit encryption, one of the highest encryption levels available. In addition, the data does not usually reside on the actual mobile device, so it is more secure. The security concerns are not as critical as they were in the early days because the security of platforms has strengthened," says Mr. Dreyer.

mHealth and medical apps offer many benefits
Mr. Dreyer admits that he may be more comfortable with mHealth because he has seen the added security and sophisticated interfaces of medical apps set to release over the coming months. In addition, newer forms of medical apps already released greatly demonstrate the benefits of mHealth. He mentioned as an example, Montrue Technologies' iPad-based information system app with speech recognition designed for hospital emergency departments. According to Mr. Dreyer, this iPad app captures audio and transmits it to a cloud server where it is processed, transferred into text and sent back to the iPad or mobile device. The app may also transfer audio into coded health data. Apps such as these demonstrate how mHealth can offer physicians and patients many benefits.

1. Accuracy. The portability of tablets and smart phones may reduce errors and mistakes made when inputting complex health data because a physician can perform tasks at the patient's bedside. "When a physician enters a patient's history, their presenting condition or treatment instructions, there is an opportunity for error. With mHealth and the proper apps, physicians can enter data at the bedside instead of at a computer across the room," says Brian Phelps, MD, emergency department physician at Ashland (Ore.) Community Hospital and founder of Montrue Technologies. "In addition, speech recognition technology allows a physician to speak with the patient and have an entire conversation captured as history." Dr. Phelps says.  

2. Better patient experience. mHealth can increase a patient's experience in a variety of ways. A physician with a tablet or smart phone can enter orders or take history by the patient's bedside. In addition, apps that provide speech recognition allow the physician to focus on the patient's story instead of scribbling notes, says Dr. Phelps. The physician could also repeat the patient's story to the app, allowing the patient to hear whether or not the physician's understanding is accurate. "I think that the best way to engage patients is to listen to them and show compassion. mHealth and speech capture allow a physician to spend more time focusing on the patient. As mobile devices become more prevalent, other technologies will take a backseat to the most important thing — relationships with patients," says Dr. Phelps.  

3. Improved efficiency, profits. mHealth eliminates small and time consuming, disruptions in a physician's workflow making their work easier and more efficient, according to Dr. Phelps. "A lot of hospitals either force an emergency department to use a hospital information system, which is notoriously disruptive, or they still use paper. Even if they are using an information system, it still requires [a physician] to turn away from the patient to find an available computer, which can be hard to do," says Dr. Phelps. "If you make it easy for physicians to document what they are doing, you are going to capture more charges and improve profitability in the emergency room."

More Articles on mHealth:

Report: Consumers Clamor for mHealth Adoption While Healthcare Industry Hesitates
Physician Tablet Use Nearly Doubles Since 2011
8 Tips for Strengthening Mobile Heath Security

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