Medicine Digest

26 February 2024

Using Mobile to Bridge the Physical and Digital Worlds in Healthcare

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November 22, 2013

We are in the midst of a transformative time as mobile phones become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives.  The mobile device has permeated every major industry, forever changing the way we get our news, learn in the classroom, entertain ourselves, manage our finances and stay in touch with family and friends.  The healthcare industry is not immune to the impact of mobile and has been embracing mobile in waiting rooms, doctor’s offices and even operating rooms.

The mobile phone allows us to link the physical and digital worlds in a matter of seconds, empowering healthcare professionals, patients and consumers to gain access to vital information when they need it most.  The numbers are impressive – 62 percent of physicians are now using tablets, with over half of them using it at the point-of-care.  Over 247 million people have downloaded one or more of the 40,000 medical apps available for tablets and smartphones.  Researchers estimate that the worldwide market for mobile health technology will reach $11.8Bn by 2018 versus just $1.2Bn in 2011.

Mobile benefits doctors, as it allows them to instantly find out information about a patient, and users, who are consuming mobile content at an unparalleled rate, and have come to expect a digital connection with the physical world around them.  However, while the proliferation of mobile within the healthcare field has been impressive, we still see companies and facilities struggle to navigate through the sea of mobile.  The reality of the situation is that there are a myriad of different technologies and multiple companies providing solutions for each of those technologies.  Add to this the fact that new products are coming to market at an unprecedented pace, and the confusion suddenly becomes quite clear and understandable.

Many mobile technologies including SMS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, QR (Quick Response Codes), NFC (Near Field Communication), image recognition and others have made their way into the arena.  However, the technology is one of several ingredients in the recipe for success.  The environment, end-user value, simplicity and reliability are important components that need to be addressed for an effective mobile deployment.  It is important to work through this value chain to ensure that mobile is aiding healthcare professionals with their daily functions, improving communication between doctors and patients and providing patients with a way to monitor and improve their own health.

Several recent examples highlight the power of mobile and its increasing importance in the medical field.  For example, a range of NFC-enabled healthcare and wellness devices have been developed by Plus Prevention. Products include blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, body fat scales and a pedometer, as well as two smartphone apps.  The data from these devices can be transferred by a simple tap to any NFC smartphone or tablet.  The collected information can also be printed or shared easily by email or SMS with health therapists and specialists, pharmacists, hospital doctors, family members or friends at the discretion of the user.

Harvard Medical Schools teaching affiliate Brigham and Womens Hospital (BWH) has developed a system aimed at making it easier for nurses to track and administer each patients medication.  The new bedside system uses a combination of NFC devices, mobile application, and tags attached to patient wristbands, medication packages and employee ID badges.  When administering medication, nurses use the NFC tablet to tap the tags on the patients wristband, on the medication and on their ID badge. The application running on the tablet then checks to see if the medication and dosage are correct for the patient and records which medication was administered to the patient and by whom.

Healthcare facilities have also added mobile as a permanent fixture to aid in their communication with staff, patients and visitors.  Through a combination of BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), NFC, QR, SMS and other technologies, location specific information such as doctor profiles, schedules, drug and health information and other helpful tips are provided to users.  For the first time ever, consumers have easy access to all medical and health-relevant information at the tips of their fingers.  Not only does mobile give facilities a new channel through which they can communicate with their staff and visitors, but they can also take advantage of new tools such as mobile check-ins to improve their facility’s experience and patient satisfaction.

The ability to communicate with users on their most personal screen is much greater than its probability.  Companies creating mobile solutions and services for healthcare facilities need to provide unique and usable functionality for the professionals.  Furthermore, products aimed at communication between facilities and their patients need to provide users with an incentive in the form of relevant, valuable and exclusive information in order to turn an ordinary visit into a mobile engagement.