From Paper to Digital - How Mobile Technology is Changing Healthcare | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

To say that mobile technology use is dramatically increasing in healthcare is a great understatement.  Today about half the adult population owns a smartphone.  By 2020, that number will increase to 80%.[1]  In fact, eMarketer found that smartphone users will number more than two billion in 2016.  With the proliferation of smartphones, mobile applications are also exploding.  Research2Guidance reports that there are already more than 100,000 health applications with over four million downloads per day.  The mobile healthcare market in general is expected to reach $58.8 billion by the end of 2020.[2]  As mobile technology and healthcare innovations combine, a new way of approaching healthcare will be established among patients, providers, and medical device manufacturers.


Mobile technology is fundamentally changing the way patients and doctors relate, and the way healthcare professionals perform their work, and how healthcare professionals and medical device representatives/service providers interact.  Healthcare has traditionally been a paper-centric industry with paperwork for patients to complete, charts for doctors to update, and medical device order and fulfillment done through forms and faxes.  With the use of tablets and smartphones, all of that paperwork is slowly being eliminated.  Patients are using mobile technology to track and monitor fitness and chronic conditions and then transmit the collected data to their healthcare providers.  Doctors use tablets to check patient records, take notes, and update charts during appointments.  They also communicate with other physicians, using their smartphones to share photos and questions.  Medical device reps manage sales and track inventory with sophisticated mobile apps.  This move from paper to mobile technology results in real-time visibility, increased productivity, greater efficiency, and enhanced accuracy – all of which leads to lower costs and better healthcare for patients.


Innovation and Risk Go Hand in Hand

Risk often follows innovation.  Some of the issues facing the advance of mobile technology in healthcare are data security, federal regulation of mobile apps and mobile healthcare devices, and software and platform compatibility. 

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) poses challenges for providers using smartphones and tablets to store and share patient information.  Some of the data security concerns raised by HIPAA are: easy access to data through weak passwords, substandard encryption, lost or stolen devices, file sharing software that could lead to data leaks, and cloud storage of data without airtight controls.[3]  These problems compound as medical centers struggle with “bring your own device” initiatives.
  • In addition to HIPAA regulations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to review a record number of mobile health apps to ensure that apps work as intended and do not adversely affect the functionality or performance of traditional medical devices.  To date, the FDA, which has been regulating mobile apps for more than 10 years, has only approved about 100 products.[4]  FDA approval might slow down some app development and cause headaches for some that are already on the market, but, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, regulatory approval may lend legitimacy to products and prove valuable for building successful and sustainable revenue models.[5]  The FDA stamp of approval might be just the ticket for a healthcare app.
  • Just as in any industry, the speed of innovation often sets a pace that is hard to match.  Healthcare stakeholders, from patients to doctors to medical device manufacturers, will find gaps between software and hardware technology that slow progress.  For example, many doctors and hospitals retain legacy systems that may not work with new mobile technology, and apps designed for use on the Apple platform may work differently on Android devices.  Compatibility from software to hardware as well as software to software may pose challenges as technology continues to evolve.


The Future of Mobile Technology in Healthcare

The question facing the medical device industry is: Where is mobile technology going?  The first point that must be reconciled is that the proliferation of mobile technology is going to continue, and, if computer technology is any precursor, mobile use will continue to accelerate.  That means the healthcare industry and medical technology industry will need to embrace this trend or risk being left on the sidelines. 


The second trend to expect is increased connectivity between devices.  Mobile devices will connect with hospital equipment and drive greater visibility and functionality for healthcare providers.  There will be clear traceability and accountability of actions and responses within the clinical environment and with that will come the opportunity to harness data at a far greater level of detail and accuracy than was previously available. 


Finally, mobile devices will connect systems across healthcare.  Mobile devices will connect with electronic medical records, hospital financial systems, and medical devices enterprise resource planning systems (ERP).  This will provide clarity to an otherwise opaque supply chain and reduce the cost of healthcare through improved efficiency.  Mobile technology has the opportunity to deliver improved clinical outcomes at a lower cost.                 

In summary, mobile device technology is radically altering the healthcare industry from the patient to the healthcare provider to the medical device sales rep to the manufacturer.  There are risks associated with the rapid adoption of mobile technology, but “the train has left the station” and healthcare industry stakeholders will be required to adapt or become obsolete.  The benefits of incorporating mobile technology are significant.  Advantages across the industry will include greater efficiency, cost savings, and increased productivity.  But, of course, the most important advancement will be vastly more effective medical treatment for patients.