'Focus on the patient, not the device'

Doctor offers 5 tips for managing mobile devices
By Tom Sullivan
09:52 AM
Iverson Bell, MD

Calling himself a digital omnivore, Iverson Bell, MD, offered words of wisdom for doctors trying to figure out how to adapt to the proliferation of mobile devices in their lives and practices.

“Focus on the patient,” he said, “not the device.”

Speaking at the AHIMA Convention and Exhibit in Atlanta, Bell, a psychiatrist at the University of Tennessee's Health Science Center, described a digital omnivore as someone who uses all of the range of mobile computing devices, including a desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet, with some frequency.

[See also: FDA gets thumbs up on mobile apps regs.]

He offered tips for existing and prospective digital omnivore doctors:

1. Incorporate digital technology into your practice workflow

“Doctors are using mobile tech increasingly – there’s no getting around that,” Bell said. Offering the disclaimer that Epocrates, a mobile app vendor he uses, provided the data, Bell said that 85 percent of doctors use smartphones and by next year 90 percent will be using them in their practices.

2. Teach and learn about new technology with colleagues

Careful to say that mentioning these products is not an endorsement, Bell did offer a glimpse inside his mHealth tool box. In addition to Epocrates and Skyscape for drug and pharmacy information, he also uses Dropbox, Calengoo (to sync up his Google and Outlook calendars), Genius Scan (for taking pictures so he doesn't have to carry around as much paper) and Lookout for security. He also uses devices such as FitBit and Jawbone Up.

3. Maintain security

“I don't have patient information on my phone,” Bell said. “I do have patient information on my laptop, but keep it real encrypted.”

Encryption is one part of the puzzle. Choosing the right applications is another. Phone calls are safe. “Facetime happens to be HIPAA-compliant,” Bell said, so he uses that, while Skype was until Microsoft bought it and now shares its data – not just with the NSA but a whole raft of entities.

He also tells patients not to use e-mail or texting.

4. Engage patients with digital technology in and out of the exam room

This can include interactive exams, innovative physical therapy education, establishing a virtual exam room, and even WebEx in some situations. Just be careful. Bell recounted a 12-year old patient who, feeling very much the exhibitionist, e-mailed him details of her exploitations with a 13-year old neighbor. “That’s child porn. I had child porn — I didn't want that,” he said.

5. Maintain patient-centric care

If there’s a downside to the proliferation of mobile technologies being used in a practice, it’s that it can disrupt the patient visit. Citing more Epocrates data,  he said physicians spend an average of seven minutes looking at devices during each visit. “If I was on my device for seven minutes, it would irritate people, and you don’t want to do that,” he said.

[See also: Partners sends mobile data to EMR.]

And be prepared to face some cautious IT professionals.

“We like to be mobile, and that drives IT people crazy because anybody who carries devices in and out of the network poses security issues,” Bell said. “They don’t like access to get out of their control and I don’t really blame them for that.”