Healthcare’s New Mobile Age

Guest post by Edgar T. Wilson, writer, consultant and analyst.

Edgar Wilson

Mobile technology is impacting every element of American healthcare–from insurance and billing to documentation and caregiving, the impacts are being felt. The truly transformative element of the mobile revolution is not the technology itself, or the way it changes the look and feel of the tasks it affects. Despite complaints of the depersonalizing effect of technology, the ultimate value of mobile in the sector will be how it enhances and encourages communication.

Providers are Going Mobile

Already, flexibility and functionality have already drawn providers to mobile devices and solutions. Voice-to-text technology and similar automated solutions are in the offing to relieve the documentation burden that has dampered some amount of enthusiasm toward digitization. Bolstered by these advancements, caregivers will go from subjects of their EHRs to masters of patient encounters.

One of the huge benefits of mobility–as opposed to simply being networked on desktop computers or having a digital health records solution–is the capacity for greater native customization and app development. Native apps are like the currency of the mobile, smart device world providers are entering. Developers can deliver personal, branded interfaces that allow doctors to choose precisely how they want their dashboards to look, giving their EHRs a custom touch that has been sorely lacking throughout their implementation.

App-centric development will further reduce the friction of adoption and utilization, giving doctors a sense of empowerment and investment, rather than the bland inertia that has carried digitization thus far.

The personalization of the technology through app development will help boost adoption, and return the focus to what the technology enables, rather than how it looks or what it has replaced. Mobile technology’s strength will be in reconnecting doctors and patients, and creating bridges of data and communication across the continuum of care.

Patients are Going Mobile

Patient-facing health apps and mobile point of access to care combine convenience and cost-saving with a learning curve. Increasing the visibility of EHRs through mobile portals gives patients greater reason to develop some basic health literacy, and levels the playing field during doctor encounters. The more providers use mobile solutions, the more incentive patients will have to do the same.

When apps are connected to prescription management and can monitor adherence to treatment plans, mobile devices provide a two-way mirror enabling doctor and patient to remain connected long after the encounter is over. This can allow providers to better anticipate and intervene where drug abuse is at risk, as well as to prevent ED admissions and readmissions beyond what telehealth has been able to achieve.

Even without connecting providers, mobile health apps will also support personal health management, with an eye to prevention as well as education. From diet-planning to workout tracking and even disease management, patients have more ways than ever to study their bodies and better understand their unique wellness needs. As providers and their EHRs evolve to integrate mobile patient-generated data, the potential for customization will make each encounter more conversation-driven, using data as a platform to educate, engage, and advance communication.

All these personal, data-rich conversations will help push prevention and population health into front of mind for a generation.

Mobilizing the Internet of Things

Mobile devices in clinical settings and in consumer markets are not limited to smartphones. The IoT is coming in a big way, and it may be a key element to making healthcare fully integrated. Automation always starts with tedious and time-consuming tasks. In networking and distributing more devices across the IoT, more sophisticated automation solutions become possible.

In healthcare, data collection, organization, and exchange will be offloaded to IoT systems, leaving more time for the human relationships to take precedence once more. Just as providers are equipped with more hands-free documentation and voice-to-text solutions, wearables and other smart devices will turn time-consuming tasks into passive events. Even as healthcare becomes more digital, it can also become more personal.

A New Security Paradigm

The shift toward greater native mobility puts new strains on an already overburdened security infrastructure. Security in the IoT has, in some respects, even greater implications than simply protecting personal data. Imagine a future in which autonomous cars can be hijacked remotely, household appliances like the refrigerator locked shut and held ransom, mobile phones rendered useless. When everything is connected, to an extent, everything becomes a target, and therefore vulnerable to all manner of creative and destructive forms of hacking.

This is going to change the cyber security game, and you can bet that healthcare devices will be front of mind in the new paradigm.

Developers, public and private organizations, clinical teams, and patients will all want greater native security for their health data and applications. This is in the works, although it is not yet clear that any amount of programming will make up for the user risk. The saying in the IT world is that a system cannot be fully secured and usable, because users always constitute a security risk. That means security will become everyone’s responsibility and priority in a whole new way.

This goes beyond toggling privacy settings on Facebook, or remixing passwords every month. Digital security will become a new literacy everyone will have to learn, a new social compact everyone will develop newfound reverence toward. Awareness, training, and standard behavioral protocols will have to be developed and constantly retooled to keep pace with the ingenuity of cyber criminals.

Mobility in some ways carries greater implications for the healthcare industry than digitization itself. For all the growing pains and challenges of the last few years, though, the mobile revolution should ultimately return medicine to its human roots: relationships, communication, and a personal touch. The better the technology gets, the more relevant its users will become.

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