Technology for the Future: How Smartphones are Affecting Healthcare
How Are Smartphones Affecting Healthcare?
Technology for the Future: How Smartphones are Affecting Healthcare
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently defined mHealth as “The use of mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health objectives.” For smartphone users in developed countries, the integration of smartphone app technology in the healthcare setting has had a dramatic effect on how medical providers and their patients approach medical care.
How many physicians use smartphones?
According to Kantar Media, four out of five physicians are using smartphones at work. More than 90% reported using a smartphone in a personal or clinical setting. As mHealth gains traction, terms like BYOD (bring your own device) have become commonplace in health systems across the country.
Physicians Practice 2018 Mobile Health Survey reported that the most prevalent use of smartphone technology in a clinical setting was communication between medical staff. Nearly 70% of those surveyed used smartphone medical apps as a communication system for staff members.
The use of mobile devices by healthcare professionals is not limited to staff. Hospitals and medical centers have adopted smartphone apps and eHealth patient portals to increase patient engagement and enable people to actively manage their care. Accenture reports that two-thirds of the largest hospitals in the United States have mobile apps for patients.
Even doctors in less developed countries are using smartphones to improve the state of healthcare for people living in those regions. It is clear that medical apps are an increasingly popular tool for medical providers and patients alike. Many health systems have already integrated smartphones into their technology stack. Those who have not risk becoming obsolete.
What is the role of mobile devices in healthcare?
The use of smartphones in healthcare saves time and money that would otherwise be spent collecting, recording, and sharing data. It also reduces errors during patient handoffs and allows for real-time remote access to patients and other healthcare professionals. Physicians and their patients enjoy the many features that new mHealth technologies offer.
Not surprisingly, patients and medical professionals cite communication as one of the most important aspects of medical care. When medical information is not shared efficiently, it creates confusion and can have life-altering consequences for those involved. It is imperative that doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, and patients are all appraised of the status of care. Each individual in the care team must have access to accurate records and up-to-date information. Mobile technology can streamline the communication process, ensuring that all members of the team are immediately alerted to any new changes to the patient’s status or care plan.
As healthcare moves toward a team approach, the need for real-time collaboration tools increases. Smartphones used in this manner allow medical providers to work with others who are not physically present. In hospitals, staff who work different shifts or who are caring for many people at once can use messaging to ensure the best care. Primary care and specialist physicians in ambulatory offices can communicate efficiently with staff at hospitals or other care settings. For people who live in remote communities without access to quality healthcare, smartphone medical apps provide a network of doctors and specialists who can coordinate much-needed services.
Telemedicine is a popular tool for patients who need immediate care for non-critical conditions. Internet video conferencing and advances in camera technology allow doctors to diagnose and treat many common ailments with no in-office visit. This gives more people access to around-the-clock healthcare services and saves time and money for everyone. By treating people via mobile apps, doctors are able to see more patients in less time, which helps offset capacity and staffing challenges currently present in healthcare. And because there is no physical contact between people, telemedicine can even reduce the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID-19 coronavirus.
Consumer Healthcare Apps
Most people have used their smartphones to get medical information or advice. A recent Pew Research Center Study showed that 62% of respondents downloaded an mHealth app, outpacing other app types including mobile banking, job search engines, and educational tools. People use these apps to track their wellness goals, record personal data like weight, heart rate or blood sugar, and can even send stored data to their primary care doctor.
Another practical application of mHealth for physicians and patients is peripheral equipment. For doctors, this means plug-in devices that can quickly assess a patient’s vitals, record the data, and transmit it to other care team members. Portable devices have significant implications for emergency medicine. Medical staff who work in the field can now evaluate, diagnose, and offer immediate treatment without the need for bulky machines that are only available at the hospital. Access to these portable devices will save precious time and countless lives.
A few examples of peripheral devices available are ophthalmoscopes, otoscopes, spirometers, ECGs, stethoscopes, and ultrasounds.
For patients, wearable devices and monitors can be used at home to track medical data over long periods of time. This offers valuable insights that doctors can use to coordinate care. Most patients embrace the use of these devices. According to the Boston Technology Corporation, 74% of patients believe that mobile apps and wearables help them better manage their conditions.
Do cell phones interfere with medical equipment?
Medical experts and watchdog organizations have raised concerns about the safety of using cell phones near medical equipment. The primary question is whether electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and radio frequencies (RF) given off by cell phones will interfere with sensitive machines. These concerns are especially pertinent in intensive care and operating room units.
While most modern medical equipment is designed to be less sensitive to electromagnetic interference (EMI), and there is little evidence that cell phones cause EMI on most equipment, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration continues to monitor EMI producing devices. The exception is pacemakers and defibrillators, which can be affected by EMI from cell phones. In response to this problem, the FDA and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) have developed a standard test that ensures newly manufactured devices are safe from EMI by cell phones. Because many people have older devices, the FDA recommends that people with these types of devices avoid placing cell phones directly near the implanted medical device.
Can patients use mobile phones in the hospital?
A second concern regarding the safety of cell phone use near medical equipment is the range of electronic sounds made by smartphones. Experts warn that these sounds could be a disturbance or might be confused with similar noises made by monitors. For example, misinterpreting an alert from a smartphone for a signal from a monitor could cause false diagnoses and unnecessary treatment.
To avoid potential problems, most hospitals prohibit patients and visitors from using their cell phones in certain areas or units. They equip hospital rooms with corded phones and internal alert systems that patients can use to communicate with family and staff. Each hospital has the right to restrict smartphone use as it sees fit.
Are there any other concerns about the use of smartphones in healthcare?
With any new technology, there are always a few items that must be addressed. The most common concerns that people have about mHealth systems and medical apps are:
Privacy concerns are prevalent among consumers who fear that their personal information will be mishandled. These concerns are shared by the professionals who are obligated to protect that sensitive info. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a set of federal regulations that govern how personal data must be handled. Violating any of the HIPAA laws can result in hefty fines, increased government oversight, and jail time for the most egregious offenses. Even one-time violators will find themselves permanently listed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) public list of HIPAA offenders. The nature of the medical industry means that healthcare professionals deal with immense amounts of personal health information (PHI) that falls under HIPAA protection. There are 18 PHI types listed under HIPAA protection:
- Name – either full name or surname and first initial
- Geographical location
- Dates (except for the year)
- Phone numbers
- Fax numbers
- Email addresses
- Social Security Numbers (SSN)
- Medical record numbers
- Health insurance numbers
- Account numbers
- Certificate/license numbers
- Vehicle identifiers
- Device identifiers and serial numbers
- Web Uniform Resource Locators (URLs)
- Internet Protocol (IP) addresses
- Biometric identifiers (i.e. fingerprints, retinal ID, and voice recordings)
- Photographic images
- Any unique identifying data
The obligation to comply with HIPAA regulations falls on every individual who handles PHI, from physicians to nurses, to administrative staff and off-site records storage facilities; they must protect patient info at every step of the way. This includes all paper records, electronic records (ePHI), mobile data, facsimile transmissions, audio and video recordings, photos, and any other materials that may contain personal health information.
To learn more about safeguarding your organization, check out the many Halo Platform features designed specifically for healthcare compliance and efficient communication.
Proper Use & Device Regulation
The existence of user error and device malfunctions contributes to the reluctance of some people to adopt mobile devices and internet-based healthcare technology systems in clinical settings. While these concerns are valid, they can be resolved by implementing thorough and ongoing training programs for users and carrying out regular testing to ensure that all devices are functioning properly and have the latest software updates.
Another concern is the reliability of information offered through mHealth smartphone technologies. Patients should be directed, by their physicians, to internet and smartphone resources developed or endorsed by reputable medical organizations.
Because these types of technologies rely on an internet connection, it is also important to have an adequate internet network that is managed and secured by reputable IT professionals.
Despite the potential challenges posed by smartphone technology, doctors and their patients find that the value of mHealth apps far outweighs the risks. As with any medical care, all personal smartphone apps should be used under the direction of a qualified medical professional.
Smartphones are inherently dirty. People touch their phone, then touch other things, then touch their phone again. Most rarely think about the germs that are present and can be spread. To complicate matters further, most cell phone manufacturers advise against using harsh cleaners like the ones used to disinfect medical equipment.
While experts work toward finding solutions and creating legislative regulations to govern this issue, it is up to individual medical centers and healthcare professionals to use common sense sterilization practices to reduce the spread of contagious disease. Select manufacturers such as Zebra and Spectralink have started to build durable, purpose-built smartphones that can withstand the harsh chemical cleaners needed in medical settings.
What’s next for smartphone technology in healthcare?
The unprecedented growth and acceptance of internet and mHealth technologies in medical care over the past decade paves the way for future developments that are, as of yet, unimaginable. As access to innovative tools and technologies changes the way the world approaches healthcare, medical professionals are empowered to work efficiently, and more people will get the care they need. It is an exciting time to be a member of the global medical community, as the world works together toward a common goal of enhancing care. Halo Health is proud to be a leader in the growing space of mHealth solutions.