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Healthcare IT struggles to keep up with mobile health demands

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 28, 2013
Healthcare, like most industries, finds its hard to meet the mobility desires of employees (caregivers) and customers (patients). But while healthcare struggles with unique legal and regulatory impediments that other fields don't face, it's also poised to gain much more from what some call a 'mobile revolution.'

Many healthcare industry observers say that mobile health (mHealth), telehealth and other eHealth initiatives are on the verge of changing the care delivery model - so much so, they say, that it's about time to drop the prefixes and start referring to the use of technology as plain old "health."

While the industry has been seemingly reluctant to use electronic health record (EHR) software, and reimbursement and regulatory hurdles continue to hinder telemedicine adoption, healthcare has by and large embraced mobile health - in theory of not necessarily in practice.

Healthcare Embracing Mobility Thanks to Physicians, Patients
One reason, of course, is ever-rising smartphone use among both patients and physicians. Patients are using mobile health apps for a variety of health and wellness purposes, from monitoring diet and exercise to controlling diabetes, while "more and more physicians are using their mobile devices as part of caring for patients," says Lynne Dunbrack, program director for Connected Health IT with IDC Health Insights. "Consequently, CIOs do need to focus their attention on this, particularly on mobile security."

Healthcare reform is also influencing clinical mobile health adoption, Dunbrack and Leslie Hand note in a recent report, A Maturity Model for Mobile in Healthcare. (For its part, Dunbrack and IDC use the terms "mobile health" to refer to consumer technology and "clinical mobility" when discussing systems that healthcare providers use.)

"Many of the same demands for healthcare reform - the need to improve access, quality of care, patient safety and clinician efficiency to treat patients cost effectively - are setting in motion the second-wave of mobility in healthcare," they write.

But perhaps the biggest factor that's motivating healthcare's adoption of mobile technology is its transformative potential. It's about more than those consumer health and wellness apps, says Daniel Ruppar, Connected Health global program manager and North America healthcare director with the analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. Remote patient monitoring, video consultations and personal emergency response systems (think Lifeline) are garnering lots of interest from lots of companies who are looking for opportunities to change healthcare delivery.

Healthcare Mobility Still at 'Look Up, Receive Alerts' Phase
The industry will have to come a long way to realize that potential, though. While many healthcare executives place mobile technology atop their business strategies, Dunbrack and Hand write, "Many healthcare organizations have not yet addressed the range of technology, staffing, and process requirements needed to capitalize on mobile assets and to deploy mobile capabilities pervasively to optimize operational, tactical, and strategic decisions."

A recent IDC survey suggests that fewer than 50 percent of healthcare provider organizations are deploying mobile devices in a care setting and fewer than 40 percent are deploying apps. Such apps are more likely to be seen in an ambulatory care setting than in an acute care setting, Dunbrack says. On top of that, she adds, many of these apps are little more than browser-based or Citrix-enabled clones of legacy client applications; they typically lack touch capabilities and make data entry difficult.

 

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