The Future is Near

The Future is Near

Satish Misra, MD, a first-year internal-medicine resident at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, used to carry a guidebook—many schools refer to it as their Red Book—around the hospital; it served as a tutorial on how to handle a litany of common medical problems. Now, Dr. Misra mostly scans his iPhone.

Henry Feldman, MD, a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston who also serves as chief information architect for Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians, used to lug around a bulky copy of Netter’s Anatomy if he wanted to visually explain to a patient how their endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) would work. Now, he pulls up the medical illustrations via an application on his iPad.

In an increasingly technological society in which there is an “app” for nearly everything, healthcare—and HM in particular—is no exception. The growing prevalence of touchscreen technology, mostly via smartphones and tablet computers, already has had an impact on how some hospitalists do their jobs. That upward trend should continue in the coming years, as both hardware and software technology become even more sophisticated and easy to use.

Of course, there are roadblocks. Patient privacy, wireless security, and the well-known reticence of healthcare as an industry to adopt information technology (IT) changes have—and will continue to—slowed the spread of the new technologies. However, with potential or practical usage already being forged in the arenas of patient interaction, billing and coding, and quality and patient safety initiatives, the integration of interactive devices into a physician’s daily workflow could become as commonplace in 10 years as the presence of hospitalists is today.

Still, the CEO of one software company points out that the presence of innovation alone does not translate to efficacy. The value of mobile and touchscreen technology to hospitalists—both from the hardware and the software perspectives—lies in how much a physician chooses to incorporate it into their daily practice.

Table 1. U.S. Smartphone Penetration and Projections

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Table 1. U.S. Smartphone Penetration and Projections

“The number-one factor in these things being adopted is: Can you improve the quality of documentation … without negatively impacting a physician’s interaction with the patient?” says Todd Johnson, president of Salar Inc., a Baltimore-based firm that develops software applications for clinical documentation. Touchscreen technology “absolutely does help meet that goal, but it depends on the providers. It truly is different strokes for different folks.”

Steven Peskin, MD, MBA, FACP, executive vice president and CMO of Yardley, Pa.-based MediMedia USA, has long preached the value of digital technology for inpatient care, particularly for hospitalists. He categorizes the latest wave of technology into five silos:

  • Smartphones: Powered by operating systems that turn them into pocket-size mini-computers, the smallest and most mobile of these technologies are ubiquitous in society and hospitals alike (see Table 1, right).
  • Tablet PCs: Led by the iPad’s debut in April 2010, the product is a larger version of the smartphone; the oversized screen makes it practical to use as a virtual chalkboard to explain topics to patients.
  • Peripherals: From blood pressure cuffs produced by iHealth Labs (www.ihealth99.com) and Withings (www.withings.com/en/bloodpressuremonitor) to Mobisante’s prototype plug-in ultrasound probe (www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/), there is a burgeoning marketplace for devices that serve as accessories to a smartphone or tablet, effectively turning those devices into handheld versions of costly machines. Most are connected to a mobile device via simple plug-in cables.
  • Applications: According to Dr. Feldman, “It’s not the mobile device that’s the gate to any of this. It’s the applications you interact with.” App stores already feature medical specialty sections, and the number of offerings is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
  • Cloud computing: A cloud is a metaphorical moniker for the interactivity and interoperability of different devices, systems, and servers to provide immediate connectivity and access to remote data and processes (http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/cloud-computing/).
Larry Nathanson, MDThe adoption of technology in medicine can be very challenging. If nothing else, we’re very early in the process.—Larry Nathanson, MD, director, emergency medical informatics, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Department of Emergency Medicine, Boston

About Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn is an award-winning journalist with 15 years’ experience. He has worked at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and currently is managing editor for a leading commercial real estate publication. His freelance work has appeared in The Jewish State, The Hospitalist, The Rheumatologist, ACEP Now, and ENT Today. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and three cats.

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