Since Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, mobile applications have significantly increased the productivity of medical professionals as well as back office operations personnel. However, the most significant mobile app innovations in healthcare are yet to be realized. We will review some ways that mobile apps are improving healthcare operations today, and how they may be improved in the future.
Mobile Applications in the Hospital Front Office
Mobile devices have dramatically changed the practice of medicine. They have led to the rapid development of killer software apps to meet real problems of clinicians: time management, eHealthrecord access, real-time communications and data sharing, reference/information access, patient monitoring, decision-making, and education/training. Overall, the increased access to point-of-care tools, which improve clinical decision-making and patient outcomes, has had the most impact.
Mobile Applications in the Hospital Back Office
The back office operations of hospitals have also benefited from mobile applications. IT personnel can now walk the halls of a hospital with apps that tell them what hospital IT infrastructure is not working. For example, mobile applications have significantly increased the productivity of field technicians. They are always away from their desks and need to know when new IT service tickets are assigned to them, as outages might result in an impact to patient care.
The newest generation of HIPAA-compliant mobile apps are unique in that they are pure cloud applications and not downloads, so they are much more secure. Using HTML 5 within a browser allows a native cloud application to work on any mobile devices or tablet regardless of the operating system. These HTML5 mobile applications have all the benefits and security of the cloud and are the future of mobile applications. They help Information Technology teams remain in the field longer and be more productive, because they can plan their day efficiently while navigating a multi-acre hospital campus fixing hardware and software issues for clinical professionals. Some studies indicate that a 70 percent productivity improvement is possible.
Mobile Applications in the Cloud for Patients
Unfortunately, the first generation of wearables was more focused on technology than solving any real problems, but there is some potential for wearables to improve the healthcare industry. The Apple iWatch seems to have not met super high expectations, but it is still on the market, unlike Google Glass. A watch has more platform potential and there is already an established smart watch market before Apple introduced the iWatch. Wrist watches were invented in 1868 so consumers understand the value and the wrist is an acceptable place wear a device. The head and ear are better places to obtain more accurate biometric data than the wrist, but consumers will not wear devices in these body areas 24x7. Perhaps during work hours one may wear an ear bud or one may use a wearable on their head at the gym, but not at most other times.
When integrating a watch and an innovation like Google's patent for getting a sample of blood without breaking the skin, we can imagine some promising applications. Consider that vital signs and blood composition changes could be constantly monitored and the information aggregated for the benefit of the individual and the group. Any person--regardless of age, location or socioeconomic status--could be "wired" and monitored. Some of this information could be maintained locally for managing and monitoring chronic diseases. Some data can be uploaded to the cloud for analysis to identify patterns and trends to contain the spread and incidence of diseases. Some examples are:
• Painlessly and frequently monitoring blood sugar for chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
• Continuous heart monitoring for heart disease. Analyze heart data in real time and predict heart failure and warn with text message, "Call 911 or Immediately Go to Hospital."
• Real time blood screening for Zika or West Nile viruses to determine how rapidly these diseases are spreading. Volunteers receive the benefit of knowing that they are disease free.
• AIDs testing to monitor the spread of disease.
• DNA testing to ascertain your identity. Human tissue has a unique footprint and can be used to validate identity.
Of course, we would need to integrate a "Quest Diagnostics lab" into a chip that can be put in a watch. Despite their recent problems with the FDA, Theranos is trying to make large lab-related healthcare orders less expensive and use less blood, and to increase access with more than 200 tests.
We could also imagine some other great apps by combining wearables and smart fabrics to yield true health innovation. The most important organ to the human body is the heart, and functions like respiration are critical. What if Under Armour created an undershirt and Victoria's Secret created a bra with sensors that could monitor heart and respiration patterns that would connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone? Ralph Lauren did announce their PoloTech shirt with a retail price of $295 in 2015, but the cost of technology is sure to ride the cost curve downward over time. The U.S. Department of Commerce is sponsoring the first-ever Smart Fabrics Summit on April 11, 2016. Some of the speakers will be from Intel and Ralph Lauren. Even Google is working on technology related to smart fabrics.
Here is where individual healthcare could go all in in the not too distant future. Affordable smart fabrics could eventually be ubiquitous as conductive technology is woven into all fabrics. Once that happens, there is a platform that can be leveraged. Smart phones could collect personal health data that could go very far beyond the current fitness applications and smart watches.
If consent is given, some data could be made anonymous and uploaded to Facebook, then would be integrated into personal entertainment apps. Data could also be sent to health providers to measure and monitor and reflect true costs of providing healthcare insurance and other medical services based upon your personal health index.
Additional data could be provided to others willing to pay for data. Healthcare companies need people to participate in trials of all kinds to test medicines. Governments and NOGs could also benefit by having vast amounts of data to analyze with AI algorithms and machine learning to understand patterns and trends and plan for them.
Ron Avignone founded Giva in 1999 and is based in Silicon Valley, California, serving customers worldwide. Giva was among the first to provide a suite of HIPAA compliant help desk and customer service/call center applications architected for the cloud. Ron holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and is a New York State Certified Public Accountant with a minor in English. Ron is also an avid endurance athlete, vegan and mindfulness advocate.