Monday, August 27, 2012

Mobile App Medicine: It's here. Are patients and providers ready?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Is medicine via smart phone alive and well?
Earlier this month, Healthcare IT News' Michelle McKnickle posted an article regarding five new mobile medical apps that improve doctor patient communication. Her case is pretty solid in that these apps do improve the flow of information and streamline a lot of what goes into a normal patient visit to the physician's office.

Medical and many other related apps have the potential to revolutionize the way healthcare providers and patients interact, with one small caveat: Only if doctors are willing to embrace the technology and use it.  

While the technology is here and constantly evolving (which in itself could be part of the adoption problem), there are several factors that could stall implementation into the healthcare consumer marketplace; the first and foremost of which is physicians themselves.

Doctors, especially some of the more established professionals are often not only technology averse, but actively untrusting of it. If it's not on a chart or recorded on a microcassette, it is not real, tangible information. These are the same professionals who are already cynical toward the Internet due to the fact that it allows people to self-diagnose and come into an exam with what they've already decided they have, and demand a prescription for the medicine they want (or one that has been best advertised).

I am not saying these professionals are wrong for holding these attitudes. A patient comes in convinced that they have thyroid cancer and it turns out, they need to drastically change their diet to feel better. The patient is meanwhile thinking of ways to expose the doctor for fraud because obviously, they know better. After all, it is their body.

What's my point?

Communication is the key. Also, that one to two hours waiting for an appointment that was supposed to start two and a half hours prior, could be a thing of the past if all of that paperwork could be handled ahead of time in the days leading to an appointment or with a 'bump' of  smart phone.

On the surface and in practice, mobile technology is a perfect fit for healthcare.

There is however, a distinct problem with regulation and implementation of this technology. The government is slow to move on regulation, and, the legal aspects of such implementation are often overwhelming for HCO's and private practices. These are doctors we're talking about, not lawyers. Shouldn't a doctor be thinking more about how to make you better or keep you well than worrying about malpractice and privacy breaches?  What's best for the patient in a 'common sense' sense is not always what is right legally.

Here's are some other points to ponder.

Doctors only get paid when you have a billable appointment with them.  In our instant access culture, with smart phones in our pockets, and Google effectively negating the entire futuristic feel and wonder of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will doctors really be open to this technology? 

If they can share results with patients, potentially do follow ups through a quick instant survey instead of billable in-person visits, and share records and results instantly; will they be willing to give up the associated revenue simply to make their patients happier?  Will they even believe that it will make their patients happier? With so much of a patient's attitude toward a doctor having to do with bedside manner, does this type of technology strip away any of that patient doctor relationship?

Mobile apps provide the healthcare industry with a multitude of benefits. However, implementation will likely have to be a patient-pushed initiative, in a situation where there is no real call to action. Nobody is dying because this doesn’t exist and not even a thousand small puppies can be shown in an onslaught of commercials to pull our heart strings enough to mobilize and demand progress.

As a healthcare IT staffing professional, I have to remain on top of industry news and trends. I don’t see adoption of medical apps as part of mainstream medicine until the 'younger' generation, who has and is growing up with this technology, makes it part of their daily life at work in the ER and everyday practice.