mHealth: The Way Forward


The rate of development in the mobile technology industry is unparalleled and it is now making headway in the field of health IT. The recent influx of medical professionals adopting the latest sophisticated tools to enhance care delivery and engage patients has meant that consumers now expect technology to simplify everything.

Healthcare providers are not the only ones looking to accept these technological advances, as their patients are demanding mobile applications to monitor their own health. Mobile health or commonly known as mHealth refers to the practice of medicine, public health surveillance and patient engagement through mobile devices such as tablets, phones etc. This can provide a means for care givers and patients to access clinical records from anywhere, patients able to request prescription refills or appointments and most importantly the ability for patients to monitor their health constantly and from anywhere in the world.

In a recent hearing launched by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, an organization that represents innovators across the wireless community said, “Nowhere is that promise of future innovation and opportunity greater than mobile health. Our message today is that the innovation and vision exist now in both the medical and technology communities working together collaboratively. This progress will proceed, in many respects, as rapidly as government allows.”

The mobile health market is expected to reach around $26 billion by 2017. According to a recent report, there are close to 100,000 mobile health applications and more in development by well known health IT vendors. Not only are there a number of mobile phone applications for patients but there are many in the making for healthcare professionals.

The Manhattan Research Survey estimates that in 2012 there were approximately 75 million users of Mobile Health or mHealth, who not only searched for health related issues on their mobile phones through popular search engines, but also actively used mobile phone applications to monitor and improve their health. In the same report, it was stated that almost half of the older population (55 plus) were using mobile devices to search for health related issues.

Electronic Medical Records or EMRs were originally built to be run on devices which were platform specific. This has changed with the rapid development and commercial use of technological innovations. Web-based EMRs have now allowed doctors to be truly mobile and can run on any platform or device; whether it be a computer a standard office computer, a laptop, tablet or a Smartphone. Although the demand for mobile-health solutions is increasing, some in the healthcare community remain skeptical about the implementation of such solutions.

David Levy, MD, global healthcare leader, PwC says, “Despite demand and the obvious potential benefits of mHealth, rapid adoption is not yet occurring. The main barriers are not the technology but rather systemic to healthcare and inherent resistance to change. Though many people think mobile health will be ancillary or bolted on to the healthcare industry, we look at it differently: mHealth is the future of healthcare, deeply integrated into delivery that will be better, faster, less expensive and far more customer-focused.”

There are always obstacles for any potential technology to fully integrate with and possibly overtake current technological systems, but there is no denying that mHealth is the way forward for the healthcare industry. A recent study undertaken by PwC shows that a majority of consumers predict that in the next three years, mHealth will vastly improve the quality, cost and convenience of the entire care delivery process.

 

Medical Device Interoperability


Medical devices are of paramount importance to patient care and well being such as the equipment used for clinical measurement, for instance x-ray imaging, temperature, blood pressure and critical life support. Although we depend heavily on modern medical equipment to treat patients, the devices used in practice are usually not interoperable and cannot connect with other devices. This inadvertently causes accidents which may easily be prevented through an interoperable network of devices.

In a traditional intensive care unit, patients are given treatment with the help of numerous devices such as ventilators, electrocardiographs and vital sign monitors. Most of the time, the manufacturers are different for each of these devices, which makes it harder for these devices to be integrated accordingly.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, there are approximately 1.5 million various medical devices in more than 10,000 different types of device groups available globally. These devices are instrumental for effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of diseases, and can be used in different settings such as clinics, hospitals and homes by patients, individuals and healthcare workers. They can also be integrated to a cloud Electronic Medical Records network which can make it easier for healthcare providers to record and monitor the performance of these devices.

Peter Pronovost, MD, Medical Director for the Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care at John Hopkins University sheds some light on the reasons we need interconnected medical devices. “Medical devices need to share data, so that they can better inform clinicians and help patients,” said Mr. Pronovost. “By doing so, we can both improve quality and reduce costs.”

Similarly, a report by Deloitte states that 61% consumers are interested in using a medical device for checking their condition and electronically share that information with their healthcare providers through the use of technologies such as the EMR or Patient Portal.

medical devices

Through the use of medical devices integrated with Electronic Medical Records, precious lives can be saved. For example, surgery procedures require surgical instruments and radiotherapy units are required to treat cancer patients. In the example of a cancer patient, an infusion pump giving pain medication to the patient can share and exchange data with the vital signs monitor to ensure that the patient is not being given a higher dose.

Joseph M. Smith, MD, Chief Medical and Science Officer of San Diego-based WHI said, “We see an enormous opportunity to use information technology and device innovation to bring about the much needed transformation in healthcare delivery.” He further added, “Today’s hospitals are filled with medical devices that are unable to share critical data, creating potential dangers to patients, as well as inefficiencies that put a tremendous financial burden on our healthcare system.”

 

SaaS & Healthcare – Where is the link?


We have seen the influx of information technology revolutionize almost every industry over the last few years, with one innovation after another expediting the exchange of information among organizations and individuals. The same holds true for the healthcare industry, where the term health IT has dominated discussion between physicians, hospitals and government funded institutions. The rate of innovation in health IT has been incredible, especially with the advent of Cloud-based Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Health Information Exchanges (HIE). These new solutions have helped providers escape the barriers of traditional server based technology and be connected with their patients from virtually anywhere in the world.

Today, mobile technology is paving the way for the future of affordable and accessible care delivery. Physicians have always looked for ways to respond to the needs of their patients quickly even from outside of their offices. SaaS EMR(s) and online Patient Portals have made this possible, as physicians are able to access the medical records of their patients directly from their cell phones, tablets and laptops. However, many physicians across the nation remain unaware of the functionality and benefits of SaaS EMR(s) or why it has become so popular.

The influence of SaaS upon the healthcare continuum is evident once we take a closer look at solutions such as EMR, practice management, patient portals. SaaS allows for a pay as you go service, where the data captured at the provider’s practice is stored on virtual servers outside of the physician’s office. This means that via SaaS, providers no longer need to maintain hardware equipment or perform data backup.Subscription fees are usually paid on a monthly basis, while customer support is usually available round the clock.

As with other innovations in technology, drawbacks and concerns always emerge after implementation. In this case, the primary risk of implementing SaaS in healthcare is the potential threat to safety and integrity of sensitive patient information.The long term preservation and confidentiality of this datais the responsibility of the respective SaaS EMR vendor. Most SaaS vendors today assure their clients of the safety of their information by complying with strict HIPAA guidelines. There are additional guidelines outlined in the Meaningful Use program by the CMS, thanks to which SaaS in healthcare will experience a 20% growth by 2017.

Providers must ensure their due diligence when choosing a SaaS health IT solution. The vendor must assure the provider of their compliance with HIPAA and other information security standards such as ISO 27000 etc. Providers should ideally request their vendor for copies of recent audit reportsalong with the any information security certifications before making their final decision. In light of the aforementioned characteristics of SaaS and health IT, it is easy to construe that providers looking to go paperless at this stage must give preference to Cloud technology over traditional server based technology. This will ensure the long term viability of their health IT investment.

 

EMR and Practice Management – Changing the Dynamics of Healthcare


The introduction of interoperable health IT solutions had a significant impact on the entire healthcare industry. All conventional rules of medical practice were modified and providers across all specialties strive to stay in business with the ever changing regulations and new health standards. The adoption of EMR in the healthcare sector was a game changer, as conventional methods of storing, retrieving and documenting clinical data became obsolete overnight. The potential benefits of EMR technology were the major reason behind the introduction of Meaningful Use incentives for providers – helping promote widespread adoption.

EMR adoption was on the rise, but so was the increase in provider specific requirements, often based on specialty and practice setting. It has taken a while for the physician community to fully utilize EMR technology, as initial EMR solutions were limited in functionality and usability. The rising patient volumes and pressure from insurance companies, and other regulatory bodies meant that physicians now needed to accomplish a lot more clinical documentation whilst complying with the administrative and security requirements. This led to the integration of EMR systems with Practice Management software. Standalone practice management solutions existed before the introduction of EMR technology, but with the advent of interoperable “all-in-one” solutions rendered such standalone systems redundant.

This meant that EMR vendors now focused on amalgamating their systems with practice management software to retain market share. For clinicians, the appeal of reduced hassle with the integration of practice management was a better option that ensured optimum financial and clinical performance. Subsequently, physicians could now focus on patient care without having to worry about increased office administration.

With the number of vendors rising by the day, EMR and Practice Management technology is rapidly evolving – with specialty specific EMR systems now making their presence felt. Healthcare professionals are no longer satisfied with basic EMR functionality and thus look for a solution that caters to their specialty specific clinical content and workflows. As the care continuum strives for improved clinical outcomes, it would require a great deal of effort from vendors and providers to help develop solutions that meet their specialty requirements.

 

EMR and Practice Management – Automation Realized


Consumer and business marketing has substantially developed in regards to the holistic value delivered by a product or service. Rationale is the underlying basis to adjudicate the purchase decision on any item under question. ‘Is it functional towards my needs?’, ‘How does it measure up to its competitors in the market in regards to quality?’, ‘Is it good value for money?’. These are the most common questions while determining a final choice. It would be fair to say that before finalizing any single prospect, a cost-benefit analysis is of the utmost importance.  The same holds true for physicians while implementing applications within their practice such as EMR and practice management.  Since software such as EMR and practice management are long term investments, it is all the more important to have an in depth analysis before coming to a final decision. Furthermore, EMR and practice management may have serious implications on the quality of care delivered within a practice; therefore it is mandatory for providers to be completely thorough before implementing any application.

“After you part with your hard earned money on adopting a certain EMR or practice management system and  you eventually discover that the costs outweigh the benefits, you will end up becoming aggravated. Hence, comprehensive research is fundamental prior to deciding upon any particular product or service you decide to apply within your practice”, says a Massachusetts based physician.

The core benefit of applying tools like EMR and practice management is that they have automated arduous processes which previously had to be carried out manually. In a modern doctor’s office, clinical processes are expedited and made easy through EMR, while administrative processes are automated through a practice management system. After the advent of electronic medical records, tasks which required long hours can now be wrapped up in a few minutes. Storing and retrieving documents is now done electronically within a few minutes. Furthermore, thanks to this technology the healthcare industry has ventured into the electronic sphere, where chances for any silly mistakes made are highly minimized.

Just a decade ago, no one would have envisioned that such applications would completely revolutionize the entire healthcare system – health information being transferred without barriers of location or boundaries of paper. In the world of today we see it happening; due to the incursion of health IT applications, healthcare as we know it has been transformed.

 

Practice Management Software – A New Office Manager


In the healthcare industry, increased cost associated with the operations of medical practice is one of the issues that one would possibly hear physicians, especially the solo providers, whining about. Every now and then you would come across healthcare professionals complaining about the very fact that efficient management of both the administrative and financial operations is, but a delayed, result of enormous monetary costs. Hiring additional dedicated resources to control the administrative and financial side of the practice is one of the reasons behind the increasing operational costs. Fortunately, health IT has a remedy to this problem as well.  Applications like practice management are available to help physicians streamline the business operations on their own,  without having them spend hefty amount of money.

“Why do physicians even have to be spendthrift when they have practice management available to them? Today, established vendors even provide all-in-one, affordable solutions that could help physicians address both their clinical as well as administrative needs by merely paying a minimal monthly subscription fee”, says a San Francisco based health IT consultant.

Certainly, I tend to agree with the aforementioned statement. With practice management software in place physicians can perform all the non-clinical tasks by themselves. Practice management helps them optimize all the business workflows within seconds – thereby saving valuable time and money. From scheduling appointments to noting patient demographics to sending electronic messages, the built-in practice management modules help physicians streamline all these administrative tasks. The software also ensures that there exists seamless workflow transition between the front and back office so that no barriers hamper the billing operations once the clinical actions are completed.

Furthermore, cloud based practice management software has also helped in curbing the costs associated with traditional hosted servers. This means that after spending an affordable amount on implementing practice management, physicians do not have to waste more money on software upgrades and maintenance.

Considering the financial slump and appalling conditions of the economy, physicians cannot afford to spend a good deal of money on first hiring additional resources and then training them to manage the business operations of the practice. Instead they could simply implement practice management software and eliminate the need of an office manager. While adversaries would proclaim that this might end up hampering physicians’ productivity – making them less attentive towards their core responsibilities, the advocates would not back out on supporting practice management software and helping physicians realize the potential benefits this technology can bring to them.

Why adopt Electronic Medical Records?


By now, anyone who is somehow related to the healthcare sector must be aware of the adoption saga of Electronic Medical Records. Due to the number of incentives given by the government, and the benefits it holds, majority of institutions in the healthcare industry have already either converted or are in the phase of converting to recording of medical records electronically. Just like any other radical innovation, there are benefits as well as costs associated to it. Benefits are usually in the form of ease, cost reduction and cutting down of errors. Whereas, costs are the result of the shift from old ways of storing data which of course, can be taken care of soon after embracing new ways. Considering the importance of healthcare, physicians will always show a little resistance in adopting new technologies however, trust shall develop over time.

However, whether physicians decide to move to Electronic Medical Records or stick to the traditional ways, they need to conduct a thorough research that can help them reach a sensible conclusion. When it comes to the benefits associated with Electronic Health Records, it is well known for speeding up the overall documentation process and reducing the effort required in storing data. Moreover, electronic documentation reduces human errors during vital procedures. In addition to this, the data is easily accessible by physicians and patients anywhere, whenever required.

With so many developments taking place recently, IT healthcare Vendors have integrated Practice Management Software into the Electronic Medical Records. This software caters to more than one issue, which is, providing a platform for electronically recording data, as well as incorporating Practice Management in the practice that streamlines clinical, administrative and financial operations. These bundle solutions are the future of the healthcare industry and the market leader will be decided on the basis of the number of easy and user friendly solutions provided by them. Embracing Practice Management and Electronic Medical Records in everyday practice helps physicians concentrate more on the patient which eventually results in quality care.

Read more: EMR – The Red Pill or the Blue Pill