Smartphones, iPhones, and tablet computers have changed health care.
Healthcare professionals use mobile devices to look up drug and treatment reference material; help choose treatment plans for patients; and help make diagnoses. Mobile technology offers them the accessibility and flexibility needed to better care for their patients.
Steve Martin, AGC, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, associate professor in the Physician Assistant program at South University, Tampa, has been using mobile medical apps for many years, beginning on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and now on his Droid Bionic smartphone.
“I use Epocrates most often,” Martin says. “I use it to look up medications for my patients. It helps me to choose the correct dose and allows me to check potential interactions with other medications the patient might be taking.”
Epocrates is an app that provides information based on clinical drug referencing as well as knowledge to help manage clinical practices and patient safety. Martin also uses the Monthly Prescribing Reference (MPR) app to look up drug information, as well as Evernote, an app that allows him to keep personal notes on a variety of medical topics.
Martin also encourages his students to use apps for reference and to keep notes.
“Many physician assistant programs are now issuing students tablet PCs for use in the classroom,” he says. “Increasingly, students are using tablets in the classroom on their own to take and organize notes, communicate with instructors and classmates, and gain access to medical and other databases for information.”
This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately.
In medical practice, mobile phones and tablet computers are being used in many different ways to maximize patient care and efficiency.
“The ways technology is used can be broadly broken down into four main categories: clinical reference, medical calculator, accessing electronic medical records (EMR), and patient education,” says Tom Lewis, editor of iMedicalApps, an online publication for medical professionals, patients, and analysts interested in mobile medical technology and healthcare apps.
Lewis provides further details about the four main categories of medical apps:
- Clinical Reference: This encompasses all manner of textbooks, web references, and medical literature management to ensure that clinicians have up-to-date information so they can make informed decisions about patient care.
- Medical Calculators: Many healthcare professionals use medical calculators to accurately work out drug dosages and other formulae.
- EMR Access: Many hospital EMR systems allow some form of web access which many doctors use to review patient notes, order tests, and arrange follow up.
- Patient Education: This use of mobile technology is rapidly growing, Lewis says. Apps such as drawMD and the Orca Health Decide series allow physicians and surgeons to educate their patients and inform them about their procedures and pathology.
“This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately,” says Tricia Howard, an assistant professor at South University, Savannah and director of Academic Education, Physician Assistant program. “Should a healthcare practitioner be off site, the ability to send critical data reduces the response time between the provider and the patient’s needs, therefore improving patient care and reducing morbidity and mortality.”
Medical Technology and Patient Interaction
Mobile technology also offers great potential for patients to take greater control of their health. Many medical apps make health care a collaborative process as patients can work with practitioners to create a personalized health plan and keep track of patient information.
“I visualize the increasing use of medical apps as the Baby Boomer generation begins to age secondary to the need for immediate information in order to see numerous patients efficiently and proficiently,” Howard says.
However, Lewis says healthcare professionals must be careful when using a mobile device to reference clinical information in front of a patient.
“It may damage the trust the patient has in the doctor, especially if you are looking up actual pathology/learning about a particular topic whilst the patient is still in the room,” he says.
Security and Privacy
Martin has found the mobility and instant access of using a tablet for health care to be beneficial, but says there is room for improvement.
“Making smartphones and tablets ‘industrial strength’ is a big issue,” he says. “They are not necessarily built to last in a commercial environment, as are some laptops and PCs.”
Security and privacy are also big concerns when discussing technology in health care.
“Although we have passwords and virtual private networks to serve as protection for patient information, there is still the opportunity to view a non-patient’s electronic medical record,” Howard says. “Any advances we can make in the area of privacy would be advantageous for encouraging the use of mobile applications.”
Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to regulate medical apps. The FDA will scrutinize medical apps that act as an accessory to a medical device and those that transform the mobile device into a medical device. Some of the apps that fall under the regulatory oversight are those that allow the user to view medical images and those that allow the user to view patient-specific lab results.
“I think that the regulation of medical apps by the FDA is an important step in the pathway that results in mobile technology development with respect to health care,” Lewis says. “FDA regulation will not affect the majority of medical app developers or the apps on the market. What the FDA is very rightly concerned about are apps that interpret information and, with little oversight, drive clinical decision making.”
As medical technology evolves, patient safety must remain the principal consideration for clinicians and should always be considered.