5 keys to bridging the mobile-desktop divide

By Michelle McNickle
10:04 AM

This past month, a survey revealed that of 1,190 physicians polled, 75 percent still use their desktop for practice management. In fact, despite the onslaught and popularity of mobile apps and usage techniques, just 6 percent of those questioned opt for a smart phone, while 10 percent use an iPad or other tablet for these same tasks.

Given the industry's penchant for desktops amid the developing use of mobile devices and apps, Juergen Fritsch, chief scientist at M*Modal, outlines five keys to bridging the mobile-desktop divide.

1. The main issue is the lack of adequate apps.  For the most part, said Fritsch, physicians really do love their mobile devices. "But it's the lack of adequate applications for healthcare," he said. "And what I mean by that is, many of the applications physicians use on a desktop aren't readily available on the iPhone or iPad." As a result, multiple, "crude" workarounds have attempted to solve this problem, yet they're often cumbersome to use. "The whole benefit of interfaces is missing, and in that case, a lot of physicians are frustrated by the lack of usability in today's applications."

[See also: Mobile app brings doc into the equation.]

2. Speech can help work wonders. According to Fritsch, clinical documentation and speech recognition are "necessary [parts] of a mobile device strategy," he said. "Especially if you look at dictation or speech-based documentation; that almost always involves the telephone." Typically, physicians used cellphones to document, so it's a natural progression for an app on a mobile device to essentially do the same thing. "And then it progresses from there, and more functionality is added to it," said Fritsch.

3. It's all about creating a hybrid strategy. One of the biggest mistakes a CIO or CMIO can make when it comes to implementing a mobile strategy is requiring physicians to jump head first into using purely mobile devices. "Don't make physicians do it only on one device," said Fritsch. "A mobile device is great at capturing voice and speed, but not so great at showing the results of that and making people edit and review it -- it's the form factor and lack of screen real estate." A more effective strategy, he said, is to combine multiple devices and offer a homogeneous experience. "So you can use a device like a mobile phone and tablet, but you're not required to do everything on that device," he said. For example, physicians can still sign and review their notes on a desktop, but after they've dictated them on a mobile device. "So, it's using the mobile device for what they're good at, but not forcing people on to one form factor."

[See also: Mobile health app market in growth mode.]

4. Physicians have to see value in what they're using. "You have to give them value, and you have to show them the one thing they can do better on a mobile device then a desktop," said Fritsch. It's then, he said, they will embrace it. "As always, and as I said earlier, they like these devices; they use them for private purposes all the time. But when it comes to using it at the hospital and clinic for professional reasons, typically, they don't see the value yet." Apps currently available, Fritsch continued, are either not readily solving a problem physicians have, or they're too cumbersome to use. However, there are interesting developments happening in the field, "but those haven't been widely used or seen," he said. "I think it's a matter of more physicians seeing there's value in using such a device for certain things that they do -- just for certain things, and not for everything."

5. Education on current offerings is key. For CIOs and CMIOs looking to slowly introduce a hybrid method of mobile and desktop use, Fritsch suggests educating physicians on current mobile offerings. "When mobile devices first came out, every healthcare IT vendor offered people [the ability to] use their desktop system on a mobile device," he said. "But it's cumbersome and awkward, and it's not how mobile devices are meant to be used." Apps weren't available in the app store, he continued, and connectors were used to make it all happen. "Those physicians who had the initial experience are annoyed and frustrated at the lack of usability, but that's not state-of-the-art -- state-of-the-art is native applications on these devices, which are much more usable." Essentially, CIOs and CMIOs should be concerned with "getting over that initial hump" of physicians who had a prior bad experience with mobile apps. "They have that impression in their heads," he said. "I don’t think there's anything wrong with mobile apps today; it's just that people took shortcuts initially and that's coming back to haunt them now."