The latest technology to significantly improve healthcare might not come in the form of a multi-million dollar computer system. Recent research has proven smartphone apps can be used for more than a good game of Angry Birds -- in fact, they’re revolutionizing the way doctors diagnose, nurses interact and patients receive treatment.
Christina Thielst, author, healthcare administrator and founder of the blog Christina’s Considerations, says medicine is moving into a more mobile environment. "The recent proposed guidance on Mobile Health Apps issued by the FDA is likely to result in new applications and approvals,” she wrote on her blog. "So, we can expect to see more and more of approved smartphone and tablet apps -- and increasing numbers of physicians and other clinicians who want to apply them to their patient care practices."
With the ever-growing number of apps available to healthcare professionals, Thielst suggested the four best types of apps for hospital use:
1. Those that free providers from offices or workstations. According to Thielst, the most beneficial apps for physicians and nurses allow them to remain mobile. "The apps that will be most useful for physicians, nurses, and other caregivers roaming the halls will be those for accessing electronic health records," she said. "We’re already seeing hospitals that are having apps created to access their specific records, and some EHR vendors are looking at incorporating apps [into their product] so their clients can access their records." Electronic health records with remote-access iPhone apps include Epic Systems, whose Haiku app provides authorized users of Epic's EHR with secure access to clinic schedules, hospital patient lists, and more; Allscripts' Remote app, which also is available to Andriod and Blackberry users and MedPlus' Quest Care360 Mobile, which is a secure, HIPAA-compliant application developed specifically for the iPhone.
2. Those that offer access to lab results and medical imaging. "Access to lab, EEG and EKG results are also going to be important," said Thielst. In February of this year, the FDA cleared Mobile MIM, the first diagnostic radiology app. According to the FDA, the app has a 510(k) clearance and allows users to not only view images, but also make medical diagnoses based on computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine technology, such as positron emission tomography (PET). Popular apps that allow professionals to read lab results include Normal Lab Values, which displays normal laboratory values and is compatible with iPhones, iPod touch, and iPad, and Pocket Lab Values, which provides access to more than 320 common and uncommon lab values, clinical information, and critical lab values.
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3. Those that convert a smartphone into a medical device. According to Thielst, "apps that allow physicians to provide some level of assessment" are becoming extremely popular. "For example, an app that turns a smartphone into an ECG machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack," said Thielst. Additionally, research has shown apps that diagnose stroke patients aren't just convenient -- they're between 94 and 100 percent accurate and are particularly useful in rural settings. Additional apps are being developed to diagnose cancer, along others like Kid Care, which was designed for consumers and helps with self-diagnosis.
4. Those that offer practice management. Apps for coding, billing, prescription refills and more are streamlining workflows and making it easier for physicians and other medical specialists alike. For example, the popular app Hospital Rounds was designed to help professionals make rounds, finish dictations, log billing information, transmit billing information back to the office, and more. E/M Code Check, a physician-created medical documentation and coding app, helps increase practice revenue by presenting medical documentation requirements to support a specific level of coding in a clear way.