Mobile apps keep doctors on the go

By Kyle Hardy
04:16 PM

Physicians across the nation are relying more and more on their mobile devices for assistance regarding patient diagnosis.

A few years ago, hospitals banned the use of mobile devices for both patients and physicians. Today, hospitals not only permit the use phones and other mobile devices, but companies like Apple, Research in Motion, the developer of BlackBerry, and Microsoft are creating tools to help physicians make more informed decisions. They are providing new applications to suggest prescriptions, identify symptoms and provide diagnostic suggestions.

Epocrates is among the companies whose applications have been widely adopted by physicians and used as clinical support tools in medical practices. The company offers a number of applications that include a free download for prescriptions.

Epocrates claims a user network of 800,000 nationwide. It offers multiple versions of the application with one free download and another three offered for a monthly fee. The free version includes features such as drug identification and interaction, as well as a listing of drug reactions. The premium downloads include features more advanced such as disease reference guides and symptoms that provide images for physician reference.

Skyscape, Mobile PDR, and Medscape offer similar applications.

“Currently with price structures, mobile apps are more cost effective than a full EMR,” said Alan Koenigsburg, MD, who runs a small practice in Dallas. “Physicians who move from room to room need to have something mobile at the point of care. Mobile software would help with patient compliance. Mobile platforms could completely transform medical practice.”

Many physicians are now using mobile devices to supplement electronic health records when searching for prescription interactions and diagnostic support. Many doctors trust these sources more than EMR alerts, says Michelle Snyder, senior vice president of subscriber business at Epocrates. “We’ve removed needless information doctors receive from online services or EMRs, reducing alert fatigue,” she said.

Other mobile phone applications seem to be on the horizon, as more and more physicians adopt iPhones, BlackBerrys, and other mobile devices. The ability to reach a physician 24/7 and communicate symptoms as they happen might be in the future, said Peter Waegemann, executive director of the mHealth Initiative.

This may help reduce costs patients experience by eliminating unneeded office visits.

“Physicians will use mobile devices to access formularies, guidelines, patient histories, decision support information, and care plan information – just to mention a few,” Waegemann said. “Many applets will help a physician at the point of care – think, for instance of iPhone’s 400 medical applications today. There may be 1,000 by 2010 on this phone alone.”

Physicians also may begin to integrate their own mobile devices into documentation of care, being able to update a patient’s health records from their mobile device. This may help reduce errors that are caused by problems physicians might have using keyboards or touchscreen documentation.

Other future uses of mobile devices in healthcare include:

  • Communication based disease management
  • Telemedicine programs and on-the-job training
  • Professional communication with colleagues
  • Uses in administrative actions: Appointment reminders, patient location.
  • Communication with payers

“Expect a new communication system for all participants in healthcare,” concluded Waegemann. ”Through mobile phones and other mDevices, mHealth is about restructuring healthcare by changing communication patterns, workflow, behavior, and reimbursement systems. Increased communication among patients, caregivers, and payers, will result in fewer visits and improve health and healthcare.

Called Participatory Health, this new paradigm involves all stakeholders in stimulating healthier lifestyles and improving quality healthcare, through the underlying communication technology of mDevices.