Growing pains for mobile devices

 

The proliferation of mobile devices in healthcare has been a boon for medical professionals as the portability of smart phones, tablets and laptops keep them connected from wherever they might be at any given time. This convenience has allowed clinicians to correspond, check patient statuses and review vital data to make critical decisions while at home, in transit or at a remote site.

Yet for all the ways mobile devices make individuals' lives easier, the movement affectionately known as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is causing complications for healthcare organizations – specifically the unchecked growth of mobile apps and concerns about the security, privacy and manageability risks they pose.

The issue served as a predominant topic of conversation at the recent IHE North American Connectathon in Chicago. Mohammad Arif Ali, MD, chairman of the mHIMSS Roadmap Task Force wondered aloud about "who owns the patents for all the cloud-based apps out there" and reckoned "we'll be trying to sort that out for the next five years."

Even if healthcare workers are restrictive about the apps they use for their devices, consumers represent a major challenge, said Keith Boone, lead interoperability systems designer for GE Healthcare in Boston.

"If you look at Meaningful Use Stage 2, it pushes providers to make data accessible to patients," he said. "HIPAA says they have the right to that data via e-mail. The only thing physicians can do is advise their patients on the risk."

The influence of mobile devices will only grow more pervasive in coming years. Nick Adams, co-founder and COO of Providence, R.I.-based Care Thread, estimates that there will be 6 billion mHealth devices by 2016, while PriceWaterhouseCoopers projects 10.5 billion by 2017.

Adams acknowledges the conflict that exists between clinicians' desire to use their mobile devices and hospital management's worries about security.

"Eighty percent of physicians have smart phones and want to use them in the same way they do in other aspects of their lives," he said. "At the same time, texting on smart phones scares the heck out of administrators."

This fear has led to some hospitals continuing to use antiquated paging systems, which are not only inefficient, but end up hurting the bottom line, Adams said.

"Approximately $12 billion is being lost due to communications inefficiencies and half of that cost is nurses and discharge planners not knowing whom to contact, wasting valuable time trying to find that contact and then waiting to make contact," he said. "If someone has to sit in a hospital room for extra hours because the care team can't coordinate the discharge plan with inefficient tools, that is adding up to serious costs. Look at the per patient, per bed, per day cost in a suite. It could mean thousands."

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