Mobile Tech in Healthcare: Asset or Distraction?

Mobile tech has been embraced by the medical community and widely touted for the potential to streamline healthcare, provide immediate access to important medical history and coordinate care among providers and caregivers. But there are two sides to every story. In this instance, ZDNet.com points out that lines are currently blurred as to what constitutes appropriate medical use and what’s merely a distraction for physicians. Who wants a distracted physician? Or worse, a surgeon focused more on his Twitter feed than the patient’s procedure? Not me.

Mobile tech streamlines healthcare

The many advantages to mobile tech are obvious, and it appears the healthcare community has taken notice. ZDNet.com reports that 81 percent of physicians use smart phones, and 38 percent say they use medical apps daily. About one-third are accessing electronic health records (EHRs) using smart phones or tablets, and 20 percent say they’ll be implementing EHRs this year.

Mobile health tech saves time, money

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For physicians at least, it seems to be a no-brainer. Providers are already overwhelmed, especially those working under a corporation. Frequently, they’re asked to squeeze more patients in in a single day, reducing the total time spent with each patient. And billing is a nightmare. While physicians don’t handle billing themselves, they have to rely on staff to document appropriate diagnosis codes and choose treatment options covered by an individual’s insurance plan. Otherwise, they might not get paid. They have to sort through dozens of medical plans, which can vary dramatically in coverage and treatment options. Mobile tech can save providers a significant amount of time.

  • Instant access to patient history
  • Past treatments
  • Current medications prescribed by any or all providers
  • Instantaneous medical reference applications
  • Drug interaction databases
  • Coordination of care across providers

Grey’s Anatomy docs embrace Twitter

If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you may recall the episode from last season in which Chief Weber was none-too-pleased when he discovered his staff were tweeting status updates during surgeries. Fortunately, the surgeon performing the procedure wasn’t taking periodic breaks to do so; instead, it was Lexi Grey (assisting the procedure) who stood on the sidelines and manned the Twitter feed.

Eventually, the Chief was won over when an old colleague reached out to him during a complex procedure and Twitter became an acceptable OR practice.

Status updates from the operating room?

Texting during surgery

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In the Grey’s Anatomy episode, the doctors were using Twitter to describe the procedure they were performing to an interested and targeted audience. But is it also acceptable to send a tweet to a Friday-night beer buddy during surgery? Or for the surgeon to PM his wife on Facebook? This is where the lines get fuzzy.

Surprisingly, less than half of healthcare organizations currently have guidelines defining the acceptable use of mobile devices on the job. Some lock devices with passwords or encrypt data to enhance the security of patients’ personal information, but about half of all organizations surveyed do nothing at all to monitor, guide or secure the use of mobile devices and applications. (Data from a survey by the Ponemon Institute.)

ZDNet.com also points to other research indicating that more than half of technicians monitoring heart bypass machines during surgeries admit to talking on their cell phones or texting during surgeries.

Mobile device management

Clearly, the healthcare industry as a whole or individual organizations should implement a set of best practices or solid rules that define acceptable use under certain circumstances. The potential for saving time and money is too great to ignore, so banning mobile devices from healthcare settings altogether isn’t a viable option.

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