Five Ways Physicians Can Use Mobile Devices to Boost Patient Care

July 26, 2014

Mobile health tools have come a long way over the past few years. Here's how and why physicians should be using them.

Nine in 10 healthcare providers will use smartphones by 2014, and nearly as many will adopt tablets, according to an Epocrates 2013 Mobile Trends Report.

These numbers illustrate the tremendous opportunities that mobile health (mHealth) tools present to help physicians communicate more effectively with patients and their care teams to better coordinate patient care.

Originally, mHealth has comprised the use of mobile technologies to capture, secure, and deliver health information in real time to providers or patients, predominantly through the use of devices, sensors and handheld technology. Some examples of these include:
•  mHealth apps that track activity, such as FitBit
• Wearable devices that measure vital signs
• Wearable devices and mHealth apps that monitor glucose or insulin in the blood

Today, mHealth solutions allow providers to better connect and communicate with other providers about the health information specific to patients. Some examples include:
• Encrypted messaging apps
• Care coordination apps that track patient encounters with the health systems
• mHealth apps that deliver real-time clinical information right to a mobile device
• mHealth apps that engage the patient, delivering clinical information and content specific to their health disposition

Here are five ways physicians can use these tools to improve patient care:

1. Connect the care team. Often the care team is dispersed and using different IT systems or EMR platforms, creating missed opportunities to coordinate care. Mobile health solutions can connect the entire care team in one “virtual” location in real-time. For example, a primary-care physician (PCP) might receive an alert in real-time every time one of his patients encounters the emergency room, allowing for the PCP to participate in the decision of whether the patient needs to be admitted to the hospital. This has great clinical and cost benefits.

2. Access clinical information immediately. Physicians make decisions about patient care based on clinical information that, in most cases, is stored in an EHR. But getting this information can be time consuming and inefficient. Mobile health tools can be integrated with the EHR and push clinical information in real-time to the right person, virtually centralizing each member of the care team with patient-specific clinical information. This reduces trips to the EHR workstation, freeing up more time for care team collaboration and patient care, while ensuring everyone on the care team has the latest clinical and care plan information.

3. Improve coordination and collaboration. There are approximately 2.6 million registered nurses in the United States. Just over 60 percent of them work in the acute-care setting. On average, nurses spend 20 percent of their time (one hour to two hours per shift) coordinating care. Mobile health solutions can enable faster communications, so that nurses can deliver care more efficiently. Additionally, by improving care coordination and saving time, providers can more effectively manage patient handoffs so miscommunication is reduced and the quality of patient care improves.

4. Reduce avoidable emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and readmissions. When patients visit the ER, their physicians are often unaware until after the fact, particularly if the practice uses a different EHR than the hospital. Mobile health tools can help ensure the physician and ER staff coordinate care in real-time to help reduce avoidable ER visits, hospital admissions, and unnecessary readmissions. According to a 2010 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, “The Price of Excess,” avoidable ER visits, hospital admissions, and readmissions cost the nation at least $39 billion annually.

5. Increase patient satisfaction. If providers don’t even know who else is on a patient’s care team, it is little wonder that patients experience confusion and irritation as well. As patients move through the healthcare system, their care team changes often, which makes it difficult for patients to keep track of who is caring for them, and what recent health information they shared with their providers. Mobile health solutions can keep track of all the providers caring for a patient - in real time - and share this information with the patient; giving patients the assurance that their care team is aligned and on the same page. For instance, if a patient is experiencing breakthrough pain during a hospital stay, a family member often alerts a member of the care team. If that team member doesn’t know who the covering physician is, she has to go about identifying the physician and then connecting with him. This typically involves more than one person, a couple of phone calls, and prolongs the patient's discomfort. With mHealth communication technologies, however, the care team member can contact the correct physician more quickly and efficiently with just a couple of taps on her mobile device.

In the comments section below, share how you are using mHealth solutions in your practice.

Nick Adams is co-founder and president of Care Thread, a secure mHealth platform that improves the way healthcare providers coordinate care and communicate in real time. Previously, Adams served as a sales executive for leading pharmaceutical and biotech companies. He has a BA in chemistry from Macalester College and an MBA from the Wisconsin School of Business.