FCC to promote mobile health apps

By Mary Mosquera
09:44 AM

The Federal Communications Commission wants to foster the use of wireless devices and applications in healthcare as part of a national broadband plan the agency expects to release next month, according to a senior FCC official.

The FCC plan will describe “where government has a role to reduce some of the hurdles to these technologies both in connectivity and to promote innovation in applications,” said Mohit Kaushal, MD, digital healthcare director of the FCC’s Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

ARRA mandate

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act called for the FCC to develop a plan for establishing broadband connections to the Internet as a way to spur business development, job creation and improvements in healthcare.

As part of the plan, the FCC will analyze health IT applications enabled by broadband, including electronic health record systems, video conferencing and remote monitoring, Kaushal said at a Feb. 3 conference sponsored by the mHealth Initiative, which advocates the use of cell phones and other mobile devices to improve healthcare.

For example, remote monitoring of patients with congestive heart failure has been found to reduce hospital readmissions for people with that condition.

One of the biggest issues for the long-term future of mobile devices is the finite amount of spectrum, or radio frequencies that carry voice and data wirelessly. “FCC must efficiently allocate the spectrum that is available in order to drive innovation for both infrastructure and applications,” Kaushal said.

Part of daily routine

While the FCC is tackling the broad foundations of wireless infrastructure and applications, many healthcare practitioners have already integrated mobile technology in their daily routines.

Andrew Barbash, MD, of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., uses mobile chat and texting via his smart phone and has convinced other physicians in the hospitals emergency department to follow suit.

Barbash cited using his mobile phone in the workflow for treating an emergency stroke patient. “You can use mobile chat to decide the next point of interaction to avoid wasting time when we don’t have the information, like the report for a CT scan,” he said at the conference.

Also, with the camera on his phone, Barbash said he can conduct a virtual consultation about a CT scan image with another physician. Any text that appears on the phone is automatically time stamped and logged, and he can copy and paste the information to notes in the patient’s electronic health record.

“Where I am should not limit what I can or how I get it done,” Barbash said, adding that mobile devices change the concept of the healthcare team and how professionals with expertise can interact.

Claudia Tessler, president of the mHealth Initiative, said mobile devices can also access the large body of medical information that is increasingly available online and can act as a documentation system for orders and patient identification.

There are currently a total of 5,000 mobile health apps among all mobile devices and smart phones, such as Apple’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s Blackberry, she said.

The mHealth organization plans to categorize each application by the treatment-area it targets, the vendor of the device it was developed for and the user-feedback it has received, Tessier said.