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Mobile devices in healthcare come with pros and cons

Nearly every physician uses a mobile device during business hours. Providers are adjusting to this trend by building better wireless infrastructures.

The tablet and smartphone are becoming nearly as ubiquitous in healthcare as the stethoscope. One survey in 2013...

discovered that 86% of physicians used smartphones, and more than half of providers used tablets, in their day-to-day clinical activities. Those numbers are certainly greater now. The survey estimated that by 2014, more than 90% of physicians would have adopted smartphones and nearly that same number would be using tablets.

One reason for the popularity of mobile devices in healthcare is convenience. In one handheld device, providers can access patient information, research medical literature, and securely communicate with patients and colleagues, among other tasks. Another factor behind the use of mobile devices is the availability of targeted apps. One estimate pegged the number of clinical applications for mobile devices at 95,000.

The use of mobile devices in healthcare is driving the deployment of wireless infrastructure within healthcare organizations. According to a report by ABI Research, wireless technology in healthcare is flourishing because of "the healthcare industry's need for staff mobility, transfer of digital records, standardized administration of medications and improved asset management."

The mobility and convenience of devices such as smartphones and tablets, coupled with the number of available clinical applications, can lead to benefits for healthcare providers. According to the book Wi-Fi Enabled Healthcare, there are several aspects of healthcare that benefit from the wireless capabilities.

  • Workflow: Wi-Fi allows for apps to provide information entry at the point of care and quick access to patient information, such as bedside registration, diagnostics, and patient and staff tracking.
  • Communication: With Wi-Fi, mobile devices can facilitate secure, real-time communications between healthcare providers and patients.
  • Emergency treatment: Information from emergency services can be relayed while en route or even while first responders are in the patient's home.
  • Asset management: The location and status of equipment can now be relayed to make it easier to locate items.
  • Data access: Applications that use Wi-Fi on mobile devices facilitate the collection, analysis and sharing of critical patient data --including data on EHRs.

In addition to tablets and smartphones, other types of medical devices and applications contribute to the need for continued deployment of Wi-Fi at healthcare facilities. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance,  some of these additional devices and applications include "infusion pumps, oxygen monitoring devices and smart beds, alongside mission-critical information applications such as access to electronic medical records … and real-time access to X-rays and MRI scans." Wi-Fi also supports the provisioning of high-quality telehealth to geographically remote or underserved areas, and to a growing extent, within healthcare facilities themselves.

Wi-Fi in healthcare is also growing due to the rising demand for mobile access to clinical and administrative information. According to an estimate by ABI Research, the market for healthcare-related Wi-Fi services is expected to reach approximately $1.34 billion by 2016. This number will climb as new uses of Wi-Fi in healthcare, such as voice over Wi-Fi and real-time location systems, expand alongside smartphone and tablet use.

According to the ABI Research report, existing Wi-Fi applications are expected to be joined by "a new generation of medical body area networks (MBANs), which … take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity to support mobile monitoring capability." Nearly 30 million MBAN devices are projected to be shipped annually by 2016.

There is no doubt Wi-Fi is transforming the way information is accessed, collected and used within healthcare organizations by both clinicians and administrators. Wi-Fi is even improving the patient experience by permitting easy, cost-effective access to the Internet using their own smartphones and tablets within hospitals. This communications portal that connects friends and family can go a long way to easing what is sometimes a lonely and stressful time for patients. By improving workflows and increasing the speed with which physicians can access critical information, Wi-Fi can play an important role in improving the efficiency of care provided by hospitals.

About the author:
Trevor Strome, M.S., PMP, leads the development of informatics and analytics tools that enable evidence-informed decision making by clinicians and healthcare leaders. His experience spans public, private and startup-phase organizations. A popular speaker, author and blogger, Strome is the founder of HealthcareAnalytics.info; his book, Healthcare Analytics for Quality and Performance Improvement, was recently published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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This was last published in January 2015

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