As a percentage, the United States spends the highest percent of its GDP (17.2%) on healthcare, significantly more than any other nation. However, patient outcomes are only comparable, if not better outside the United States. There are several reasons for this, and the causes are hotly debated and numerous (insurance premium costs, staff costs, poor access, American lifestyle, etc.), but solutions are few and far between. Every hospital and care facility has a different approach to improving the care for their patients while trying to keep costs down, with varying results. However, modern technology is helping to improve how patients and staff interact both inside and outside the traditional health care setting.
Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010, the landscape of mobile productivity has changed. Complex, dumb paper forms and bulky laptops are slowly being replaced by devices that can easily fit in a pant, purse, or white coat pocket. Because information is electronic, it can be checked against normal ranges, helping to prevent medical errors. Abnormal value test lab results are instantly sent to providers who need the information as soon as possible instead of sitting around in a lab for hours on end. Forms on tablets are also far faster to fill out, because they can pre-populate already known information such as biographical data. We can reduce waste and increase response times to critical events, allowing for more time to be spent caring for patients.
Mobile applications are slowly but surely changing how doctors and nurses provide healthcare in more recent times. Patient rounds are faster due to access to resources like Epocrates and UpToDate in the palm of your hand. Accessing a patient record is faster with EMR systems like Epic having an iPhone app. Learning resources that used to be several books the size of a room can now be stored 1000-fold over on a tablet. Providers that have access to more accurate, up-to-date information will lead to fewer mistakes made and more lives saved.
Communicating with your doctor has also gotten easier. While phone calls still play a large role in communication between the provider and patient due to HIPAA regulations, it is a lot easier to pull up information from your own device than to request it from a facilities medical records department. When important medical records easily get lost, this can be a lifesaver both literally and from a time/cost perspective. More and more apps are also becoming available which help providers connect in new ways with patients from request services to scheduling appointment systems and direct video chat. Technology will continue to help change how healthcare is delivered for the better.
But while these devices are available for both patients and providers alike, they still need actual applications to connect people together. The healthcare market remains largely untapped due to it being unclear which regulations do and don’t apply in this new mobile frontier. It is only recently that the FDA in June 2014 has given guidance to app developers on which apps would and wouldn’t need special approval. Any app that transforms or allows it to become an accessory to a regulated mobile device needs to be reviewed before being legally permitted for use/sale in the United States. Other apps which more peripherally help with diagnosis do not need pre-market approval but will be evaluated as needed on a case-by-case basis. Apple’s recently announced ResearchKit is a big help in this regard. By allowing patients to easily sign up for research studies, more information can be gathered at a faster pace, hopefully helping to solve some of medicine’s biggest problems: cancer and heart disease.
Overall, the future looks bright in how technology will impact healthcare to make it better for all of us.