The new reality of today’s technology-enabled world — one where more people have smartphones than don’t — is that we all expect access to everything, from anywhere, anytime. This expectation exists in all aspects of our lives, and holds true for providers and their patients who both want an fast way to communicate and easy access to health data.
For the most part, the technology industry has risen to the challenge, providing us with the ability to do nearly everything on our phones. This digital transformation is happening at warp speed almost everywhere, except in healthcare, where mobile health, or mHealth, lags behind and the industry struggles to move beyond the digital health hype.
A paper titled “The State of Clinical Communication & Workflow” produced by HIMSS Media in partnership with HIMSS Analytics and PatientSafe Solutions explores how stakeholders in the healthcare system are using and plan to use mobile clinical communications tools.
Current condition of mHealth
To say that the state of mHealth is fragmented is almost an understatement. With IT professionals, clinicians, and even different departments within the same organization wanting and expecting varying solutions from mobile devices and applications, finding effective mHealth programs is rare.
The survey shows that the main use of mobile technology in healthcare is for communication, rather than accessing patient data, sending alerts, or as a diagnostics tool. In one sense, the use of mobile technology primarily as a communication tool makes sense, but it also means there’s an enormous amount of untapped potential.
Depending on who you ask, mhealth should be doing different things. IT professionals expect mhealth to provide:
- HIPAA compliant messaging
- Consolidation of voice and messaging
- Integration with the delivery of results and alerts
However, clinicians have a different set of expectations:
- Improved patient safety
- Faster response among teams
- Faster response to patients
In some ways, those expectations are related. For example, integrating the delivery of results and alerts could improve patient safety, and a good messaging system that is HIPAA compliant could result in faster response times from team members. The interesting thing is that these basic functions are not yet widely available.
The report notes:
The survey shows that the vast majority of both clinicians and IT want to see strong integration of workflow and communications capabilities within a unified application, which potentially makes it the strongest driver for ongoing adoption. However, for the most part, that hasn’t happened, primarily because of product limitations.”
Secure messaging may be available but inconvenient
As it is now, most organizations do have secure messaging platforms available to clinicians. But, in many cases they are so unwieldy they are difficult to use. Nurses, particularly, often have to juggle multiple devices, which could include handsets, voice badges, pagers, and phones. Physicians are more likely to have smartphones, but even so, may have to use multiple apps to send messages making it more likely they will use the phone’s native SMS app and send unsecured messages creating potential HIPAA violations.
A full 39% of clinical staff indicate unsecure messaging is happening even when secure messaging is in place. Everyone has their own cell phone. If the care team can’t easily reach each other with the hospital-provided devices and apps, they’ll use whatever is fastest to take care of their patients.”
The majority of healthcare professionals would like to see better integration of secure communications and clinical workflow. The survey results showed that 75% of respondents felt “the communication solution(s) and clinical applications at my organization aren’t adequately integrated to support clinical workflows” and 77% “indicated they would like their communications solution(s) to integrate with clinical workflow management and documentation.”
Even within a single organization, different departments may be using different communications tools. The problem is wide-reaching across the industry as well as deep — extending through organizations. However, there are factors that could make now the best time for a change.
The potential of mHealth
Although the majority of professionals who responded to the survey were concerned with the use of mhealth for secure communications, mobile applications hold the potential for much more, particularly if integration with electronic health records (EHRs) and clinical workflows can be achieved.
The top three areas that professionals indicated are currently unfilled include:
- Communicating results across care-setting boundaries
- Proper post discharge follow-up coordination
- Patient data access anywhere, anytime
Each of those areas could impact things like hospital readmissions, chronic condition care, and patient participation in their own care, all of which are part of value-based care. There’s a strong case for making mHealth a priority right now.
Why now is the right time for mHealth
With so much uncertainty and impending change in the industry, now might not seem like the best time to tackle the problems of mobile communications in healthcare, but it is, for multiple reasons. In some cases, older devices are ready to be replaced, and the move toward value-based care may be better-accomplished with a good mobile strategy in place.
The report advises making a particular mobile device, along with an infrastructure and some “marquee applications” the backbone of the mobile strategy, then building from there. Such a strategy will allow healthcare organizations to move from patient-level care all the way to population health.
There are challenges. Among them:
- Lack of existing infrastructure
- Systems integration issues
- Too many devices
- Too many applications
- Lack of interoperability
- Fragmentation within organizations
There are smart mHealth and digital health solutions, though, and choosing applications built on a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform, like the many application developers who have chosen Datica, is a smart first step.