Docs take mHealth baby steps, use tablets for the basics

By Eric Wicklund
09:24 AM

Whether it's due to skepticism or a lack of resources, not all doctors are sold on the prospects of mHealth. But for those looking to stick their toe into the pool, tablets are finding widespread adoption as a good entry point for clinics and doctor's offices.

Recent surveys have indicated roughly 80 percent of doctors use mobile devices, and between 40 percent and 50 percent are using tablets. With new tablets coming out almost every week, and surveys indicating almost 80 percent of consumers want to see their doctors using mobile health solutions, clinicians are turning to tablets for that most basic of functions: Patient registration.

Eric Esrailian, MD, vice chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is using iPads loaded with Tonic software in a pilot program to capture patient information in the waiting room. The electronic questionnaires, he says, replace the tiresome, wasteful and not-always-accurate paper surveys and are boosting patient satisfaction to new levels.

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"It's really a breath of fresh air for us," says Esrailian. "We're eliminating reams of paper with this. It's also really timely and efficient."

Esrailian says people of all walks of life enjoy using the tablets, and doctors are seeing advantages in that they don't have to pore over bad handwriting, and all the information is electronically accumulated and stored. That data could eventually migrate into an electronic medical record, he says, if UCLA wants to continue on the mHealth path.

"Mobile health is creating a new era of patient care and data collection," he says. "What we really want to do here is improve patient satisfaction by making it easier for them (to come into the clinic and register) and electronically gather all the information we need. There's a lot of potential here for data collection, and longitudinally entering other results."

At USF Health in Tamps, Fla., Lennox Hoyte, MD, director of obstetrics and gynecology, is using the Allscripts Wand application to enter patient information onto an iPad at the point of care. Since implementing the app in a beta test roughly three months ago, he estimates saving four to six minutes of time per patient, or two hours a day. That means he's getting home at 5 p.m., in time for dinner with the family, instead of 7 p.m.

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More importantly, Hoyte says, he's actually "seeing" his patients, rather than talking to them over his shoulder as he tries to type information into a desktop computer.

"Patients don't care how you document – they really don't," he says. "They're coming in for the same things they came in for 200 years ago … but they do care about how they're treated."

The ability to use a tablet to document patient information and gain instant access to patient records "dramatically changes the patient interaction," Hoyte says. "It improves the conversation, and gives doctors a chance to get back in touch with the patient."

Hoyte says information entered into the iPad through the Wand app is loaded into the patient's electronic medical record, all part of the Allscripts platform. In the future, he sees physicians using tablets in the office "to address a whole class of problems we can't even touch today," like taking photographs and notes and accessing clinical data.

"The standard EMR is two things – data storage and data access," he says. "That second part is often neglected. We use apps now for data storage, but (in the future) we'll be finding ways to access that stored data and do something with it."