Going Mobile: mHealth as the Next Disruptive Technology


Most people alive today would be hard pressed to remember the world before television. In the near future, the same may be true for a healthcare system before mobile technology. Mobile is quickly becoming an integral part in how doctors and patients interact.  Because of the growing impact of mobile health technology, better known as mHealth, it may very well be the next disruptive technology in healthcare.


Disruptive technologies displace existing technology by introducing a new innovation to society that offers greater efficiency, ultimately lowers costs and over time may radically transform a market. mHealth encompasses a broad array of technologies, from computers to patient monitors and telecommunication tools, but it is the growing use of smart phones and other similar mobile devices that is most rapidly making its mark on the healthcare industry. An estimated 81 percent of physicians are using smartphones, and 27 percent have tablet computers, which is five times as many as the general population. It is this trend that will redefine health care and ultimately disrupt how health information technology is consumed and delivered.


An App for That?: Smart Phones Changing Health Care by Creating Efficiencies
Those who own a smart phone, tablet PC or other mobile device can handily cite the ways it impacts how they access information, interact with others or even manage their day. This is also true in health care settings, where smart phones are expediting decision making and decreasing time providers spend on administration, thanks to a new real-time link to critical data. For instance, dozens of emerging mobile software applications (or ‘apps’) give instant access to patients’ medical histories and lab results, and even provide the capability for doctors to issue prescriptions, find instant medical reference and education information, or monitor conditions and diseases – all via their smart phone or tablet.


“Mobile devices essentially act as terminals that let doctors tap into all the clinical resources they need at any given time, with no worry of data exposure,” said Nuesoft Technologies CEO Massoud Alibakhsh.


The net effects: Providers are no longer tethered to a paper chart, or even to a desktop, and long-time workflow and communications protocols associated with medical practices are beginning to change.


mhealthFringe Benefit: mHealth and Meaningful Use?
It is clear that mobile devices can improve care andsimplify medical practice management. But the move toward mHealth may also eventually have an unexpected sidebenefit – faster, more widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). 


Despite the mandate by the U.S. government under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 – which includes incentives and penalties for providers to adopt EHRs, statistics from the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology show that through July of 2011, about half (51%) of small practices (3-5 providers) and not even a third (31%) of solo provider practices are using EHRs. And even in the cases of practices that do use EHRs, they may not always be using HIT in a “meaningful” way, in line with the original objective of the government when HITECH was enacted.


This challenge may resolve itself when the penalty phase of HITECH takes effect in 2015, and more providers feel the pressure to get on the EHR bandwagon to avoid costly reductions in reimbursement rates from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). An alternative perspective is that the push for EHR usage by the government will be completely overshadowed by the pull associated with the increasing use of mobile devices by health care providers and the continued demand for HIT applications that flex to a physician’s workflow preferences. 


“Doctors don’t want to have to sit down and be confined to a desk,” said Alibakhsh. “This has been a key part of the barrier to widespread EHR adoption. When EHRs can be accessed via mobile devices, we remove this problem.”


The emerging generation of mobile health care applications includes full-blown, robust software packages with all of the core functionality found in desktop EHR products. But more importantly, mobile platforms, by their nature, are more closely aligned with doctors’ intrinsic need to be mobile.


“Most mobile devices now include voice integration capabilities, video and social media types of tools that are helping doctors practice medicine in ways that are more natural to them,” Alibakhsh said.


As usage rates and dependability on mobile devices among health care providers continues to increase, issues with interoperability will need to be addressed. More solutions will have to integrate across disparate platforms so that all stakeholders can track and share details of a patient’s health record over time.


As long as interoperability needs, device performance and security protocols are met and the cost of smart phones and tablet PCs continues to decrease, mHealth may very well be the necessary medicine that will get doctors away from paper charts and into a world where data is fluid, and care can be more accessible and better coordinated.


“It’s nearly impossible to legislate around the use of technology,” said Alibakhsh. “Ultimately, technology is going to take its own path. Because mobile technologies are easier to use and more in tune with the workflow in medical practices, they are already disrupting the status quo, and it won’t be long before we look fondly back on the days of paper charts and try to remember what it was like to use them.”