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Mobile Computing in Healthcare – a really old idea

Recently, Radio Magazine had an interesting cover story. A patient at home uses a multi-function device to take her vitals and communicates in real time via a video conference with her doctor. The physician gets instant access to the data and can visually inspect the patient through a two-way camera. All communication is wireless and covers long distances – wow.
Well, the article wasn’t published quite as recently, but in April of 1924.
85yrs and 11 months later, I am at the annual gathering of the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HiMSS) in Atlanta and notice that wireless medicine is still a hot topic. There are numerous iPhone apps, like the mobile bedside ICU monitor in this picture:
So, we’re right now at the point of having a small set of patient data elements at the finger tips of providers on a mobile application. Add to that remote sensors and diagnosing capabilities, and the landscape will look more like the 1924 idea. The blood sugar sensor in your body sends information via your cell phone to the physician’s Electronic Health Record application and she gets an instant notification in case your numbers are off. Pretty cool.
Sophisticated high def imaging is another thing that will go mobile in the near future.
I attended Dr. Bria’s presentation on mobile computing today. He’s the CMIO of Shriner’s Hospital and he  specifically mentioned the iPad as a delivery vehicle for high def ultrasound and radiology images. While smart phones and iPhones are preferred due to their “always on the person” form factor, the larger iPad has the ability to deliver more detail on its larger screen while maintaining the cool factor. 
However, how long will it take the vendors to develop the special applications for those devices? How much data will need to be transmitted via wireless networks to render an image where the quality is “good enough” to be useful?
While I see a lot of motion towards secure mobile patient data access at HIMSS this year, I also see more systems in the healthcare IT enterprise, not fewer. For example, there are vendors who offer solutions to extract data from various other vendor’s clinical applications, stick the data into a separate database, and then have an iPhone application connect to it. All for the purpose of providing mobile access to providers – cool,  but the increasing complexity could be a roadblock.
Thanks to desktop and application virtualization, the native imaging modules of EMR applications are likely to come to the iPad and other devices pretty much right away without CIOs having to worry about yet another platform and yet another application…. 1924 – here we come.

What else is new at HIMSS? Stay tuned….

Follow me on twitter: @florianbecker

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