Remember the old days of standalone personal digital assistants (PDAs)? I still remember walking around the hospital with an Apple Inc. Newton MessagePad in my hand. The Palm Pilot that followed quickly became a popular tool for health care professionals and students because they no longer needed to memorize drug dosages and could access drug database information quickly. These mobile gadgets also could house thousands of books and medical reference guides. That meant the white coats we wore became really light because we could replace paper books with e-books on our PDAs.
Today, although we live in the era of the smartphone, we know there still are many physicians who choose not to use it in their clinical practice despite its popularity. Part of the reason is because there is already a lot of technology around them.
As hospitals become equipped with electronic health record (EHR) and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems, health care professionals working in a clinical setting can access a wealth of information at their fingertips because they are surrounded by digital devices ranging from PCs to iPads.
Physicians who work primarily in an outpatient setting also are moving into the digital era. This change is occurring slowly, however, and many physicians still use paper medical records in their offices. Eventually these outpatient practices also will become computer-based, and physicians will have multiple computers and mobile devices in their offices.
So, if physicians are (or will be) surrounded by computers, what does this mean for smartphone use? As it turns out, the benefits of smartphones in a clinical setting are evolving. Let's take a look at three concrete examples:
- Smartphones can become an extension of your EHR or CPOE system. Many such systems have apps that allow you to access critical patient data when you're not near a computer. You can receive an alert about a patient when you're working in the office, or you can monitor critical biometrics when you're having lunch in the cafeteria. You can access your EHRs and enter an order through your CPOE system even when you're not near a computer. These time-saving tasks can improve clinical workflow efficiency for busy health care professionals who often are rushing from one thing to another.
In most cases, using smartphones can improve workflow and communication among the members of a health care team.
- Mobile devices are revolutionizing the way health care professionals communicate. In the past, a subspecialist might see a patient and write a consult note in the chart. If you were lucky, you might get a call from the specialist and you might discuss the patient over the phone. In most cases, you would read the consult note in the chart the next day. Now digital communication technologies allow us to receive information almost instantly. Physicians use Short Message Service (SMS) or internal messaging platforms via their smartphones. Nurses send brief messages to physicians instead of relying on alphanumeric pagers. In most cases, using smartphones can improve workflow and communication among the members of a health care team.
- Finally, with the general population increasingly using smartphones, the devices can become effective ways to educate patients. During a routine office visit, for example, a physician might choose to recommend a particular smartphone application to a patient with diabetes. If the physician has the app on his smartphone, he can demonstrate the value of the app to the patient at the point of care. As clinicians become more familiar with health apps, they'll be more likely to recommend certain ones to their patients -- and if patients see that physicians are proficient users of an application, they are more likely to use it themselves.
As such devices as iPads provide overlapping functions and greater usability, we're seeing a revolution in the world of technology. The standalone PDA is obsolete now, replaced by the smartphone -- and although the iPad and other mobile slate tablets won't replace smartphones, they are going to change the way clinicians communicate. We'll be seeing a number of changes over the next few years as newer mobile technologies infiltrate the health care system.
Dr. Joseph Kim is a physician technologist and the founder of NonClinicalJobs.com and the Society of Physicians with Non-Clinical Careers, or SPNCC. He also blogs about smartphones, mobile computing, and the intersection of medicine and technology. Let us know what you think about the story; email firstname.lastname@example.org.