Friday, April 20, 2012

Apps and Healthcare

I was just reading a great article on the blog about how an ER physician uses her smart phone to facilitate care. For example, the author called a specialist from her smart phone, received a return call on her smart phone, looked up medical information on her smart phone, and even took a picture of an EKG and emailed it through a secure network from her smart phone. None of this is really new. In layman’s terms a user makes a call, gets a call back, looks up information on Wikipedia, takes a picture something and sends it to a friend. Most of us have been doing this for years.

I think people need to be told about the obvious applications of technology and I am so glad that this article spelled out the value of technology in simple, real life terms. Still it makes me think. Why does healthcare require laws like HITECH and ARRA and government incentives to do what other industries have been doing for years? Apple’s iPod and iPhone hold over 80% market share and there were no laws requiring its usage; yet, EMR is still (despite laws and incentives) struggling to convince doctors about the value. Maybe, EMR needs to take a closer look at the ‘value’ they are providing.

One big problem in healthcare IT adoption is the use of uncommon technology platforms, formats, languages, etc. None of the various healthcare technology solutions can talk to each other with ease. With that, information has to be entered again and again into different places or providers have to pay for expensive fees to link the software through interface. Given there have been some improvements with CCR, CCD, HL7, etc. but it is not enough.

Still, I am not sure this is the whole problem either. Think about Apple again. For a very long time Apple had compatibility issues in this Windows dominated world. Yet, iPod, iPad and iPhone dominate and even the Apple computers have become popular enough that Microsoft has had no choice but to create Apple compatible versions of many products. So, can we really say compatibility is the problem? I’m not so sure. I wonder what would happen if someone came up with something as good as iPhone for healthcare. Would adoption and perceptions change?

I think the bigger problem is cost versus value. Healthcare providers struggle to find a single affordable system that doesn’t milk every penny out of the provider’s pocket. Very often it seems that every feature in healthcare technology is an additional cost and every interface to develop connectivity between systems or between healthcare providers is another fee. Another aspect of cost is the money lost in long implementation times resulting from software that is just too hard to use and/or inconvenient. These are problems that smart phones don’t have. Features (apps) are cheap or free and I only need to pay for the ones that I use. Also and perhaps more importantly smart phone apps are easy to learn and easy to use. Why does EMR have to be so complicated?

The answer – it doesn’t! I think that over the next few years we will begin to see some dramatic changes in this as life becomes more and more app driven. We are eventually bound to see an app style EMR emerge. In the mean time, I hope more and more providers will begin using the technology that is already at their disposal.  


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