For most physicians, coordinating care with other doctors and staff can be a time-consuming, back-and-forth, error-prone process.
But for pediatrician Wendell Wheeler of South Park Pediatrics in Chicago, an EHR user of nine years who purchased his iPad and iPhone in January 2011, it's as easy as making a few taps with his finger.
Armed with his mobile gear, Wheeler can open patient charts at anytime, anywhere, and do everything from advising patients on medications and sending prescriptions to pharmacies, to communicating with outside physicians about specific patients.
"It's a nice extension [to the EHR]," says Wheeler. "I've been using Amazing Charts for nine years. I went into private practice and I wanted something that would make it easier for me to keep up with my patients and [my iPad and iPhone] have done that."
Wheeler's use of mobile technology to collaborate and communicate with his healthcare peers is representative of a shift in the way many physicians are practicing medicine. And it's a shift that will only continue to expand. In addition to CMS' meaningful use incentive for EHRs, new initiatives under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — including the much-publicized accountable care organization (ACO) initiative that rolled out in April — call for greater communication between physicians. Additionally, a growing number of technology vendors are rolling out mobile versions of their EHRs that allow physicians to do everything from video chat with patients to send charts to hospitals utilizing different systems.
"If you think about healthcare IT, about a world where healthcare IT is being delivered in real time, you can see how mobile devices play a larger role, because physicians have a mobile device wherever they are," says Albert Santalo, founder, president, and CEO of cloud EHR provider CareCloud.
In the future, mobile collaboration between physicians is expected to deliver even more benefits, though it requires some considerations.
Rise of the mobile physician
As with the general public, the use of electronic communications among physicians has picked up steam over the last several years.
For starters, the number of physicians who use the Internet has increased. According to our 2011 Technology Survey, 74 percent of hospital-owned and 66 percent of independent practices out of a pool of 1,013 respondents said their practice has a website. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said their practice uses e-mail to communicate with patients.
But the biggest, most obvious catalyst for the growth of electronic communications in the practice is CMS' incentive program for EHRs that launched in July 2010, offering providers who demonstrate "meaningful use" of an EHR up to $44,000 under Medicare, or up to $64,000 under Medicaid. In 2010, 48 percent of 597 respondents to our annual technology survey said their practice had a fully implemented EHR. That number jumped to 55 percent in 2011.
The timing of CMS' regulations couldn't have been more serendipitous for the mobile electronics industry. In April 2010, Apple released the first version of the iPad tablet, which is still, to date, the most popular tablet brand among physicians. Per our technology survey, 20 percent of respondents (including physicians and practice administrators) own a media tablet, and 54 percent own a smartphone. So it's no surprise a growing number of EHR providers are offering mobile device access through these gadgets.
For physicians, using mobile devices makes stuff such as e-prescribing and looking up medication information easier.