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Dec 12 2012   2:17PM GMT

MHealth applications: Liberate physicians, and the data!

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
Clinical documentation, EHR systems, EHRs, Health care analytics, mHealth, mHealth applications

Guest post by Stephen S. Hau, president and CEO, Shareable Ink (@stevehau)

The term mHealth generally refers to mobile tools that support the practice of medicine and public health. Current mHealth applications typically deliver health information to providers (patient information and reference materials) and consumers (education and awareness materials) in a workflow friendly manner. Some mHealth applications have made strides in capturing valuable health information — such as waveform data from monitoring instrumentation and medication regimen adherence reporting from patients. There remains work to be done in our industry to help support clinical documentation. The trend of mHealth is still in its early days and herein lays an opportunity for mHealth to capture the structured data necessary to fuel prospective analytics and improve outcomes.

Realizing the promise of EHRs

The proliferation of EHRs has exposed a lack of structured data, which is a new challenge for health care, though EHRs are a wonderful step in the right direction for the industry. Structured data is required to power analytics for reporting (retrospective analytics) and prediction (prospective analytics). The legacy approach of a traditional EHR user interface incorporates drop-down lists and numerous input screens that make documentation cumbersome.  As a result, many clinicians often type or dictate unstructured, free form text into comment fields to simplify the process. The lack of structure and discrete data elements mean that the ability to use such information for analytical purposes is extremely limited, despite its convenience.

The industry needs solutions that leverage the ease of workflow-friendly tools to more intuitively capture meaningful and useful documentation.

An mHealth success story

We can all learn from NorthStar Anesthesia, P.A., an anesthesia management company. They needed a mobile documentation solution that could cover numerous hospitals across the country and support the demanding needs of individual clinicians, who are often tasked to care for patients at multiple facilities. NorthStar now utilizes a unique mHealth solution that allows them to capture structured data at the point of care in a completely intuitive manner. Their solution was provided by Shareable Ink and it combines mobile hardware devices, including iPads and digital pens, with a user experience that was designed to be as fast as paper forms. The cloud platform manages numerous mHealth devices, converts natural input to structured data, integrates with backend clinical and financial systems, and exports data to national registries like SCOR (Society for Ambulatory Anesthesia’s Clinical Outcomes Registry). NorthStar protects the productivity of its physicians and captures valuable data at the point of care, while actively participating in its industry’s quality improvement initiatives.

The Promise of Liberation

NorthStar’s success illustrates that mHealth can be a liberating tool for clinicians, but it’s only half the solution our industry needs. By combining intuitive tools at the point of care, mHealth also has the promise of generating useful structured data which is critical for tackling the challenges our industry faces. We cannot measure quality without data nor can we support cheaper, better health care if we do not understand quality.

The function of mHealth needs to advance beyond viewing of health information to the capture of structured data that can power prospective analytics and improve outcomes.

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