In July, TechTarget’s Pulse ran a cover story about the infiltration of digital tablets and smartphones in healthcare as seen through the eyes of hospital CIOs. The takeaway? “Caregivers long tethered to computer workstations to view patient records and medical images enjoy new freedom with mobile devices.”

While the benefits of mobile health may seem like old news, the article lays out interesting trends that should be of interest to physicians and IT staff alike. Pulse is an e-publication of SearchHealthIT.com, the healthcare technology professional’s how-to guide to the IT-enabled healthcare organization. While most TechTarget readers are health IT professionals, mobile devices are changing healthcare in ways that are important to all of us.

How do hospital CIOs understand the infiltration of digital tablets and smartphones in healthcare? Here are four takeaways.

1) Medicine is lagging behind other industries in the use of mobile devices

While we often hear that “healthcare is behind,” Karen Clark, CIO at OrthoTennessee offers an explanation of why this is the case.

Clark traces the problems with health IT mobile efforts in healthcare to the HITECH Act – a law that encourages adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and supports health IT in the US. When the HITECH Act was signed into law, it brought requirements for certification of EHR software. EHR vendors had to pour their resources into meeting those certification requirements and, therefore, didn’t pay much attention to mobile.

The good news is that Clark and others do see a rosier future for mobile devices in healthcare facilities for both physicians and patients.

2) Mobile device use in healthcare will become “invisible”

In this case, invisible is a good thing. Think about the last time you bought an airline ticket on your phone. You probably opened an app and bought the ticket, and the app reminded you when it was time to check in for your flight. You used the app to chose a seat and announce how many bags you were bringing, and at the airport you pulled up your mobile boarding pass. You wouldn’t think about doing it any other way.

Karen Clark uses this analogy to explain how, “At no point did [you] think once about the device [you were] using. The technology had become invisible so that all [you were] thinking about was the task at hand.”

As healthcare catches up to the airline industry’s level of mobile integration, patients won’t have to think about the fact that they’re using their smartphone to change an appointment or access their medical record. Similarly, physicians will move freely within and beyond the hospital, knowing they have secure access to patient data on their smartphone or tablet at all times.

For physicians and patients the goal of “invisibility” is the same – mobile technology will fade in to the background, becoming a routine part of the experience. As Clark puts it simply, “Nobody wants to carry around a 4.5-pound laptop all day.”

3) Tablets fill an important RX for doctors

Handheld mobile devices recently surpassed laptops as healthcare organizations’ top mobile buying priority, according to a 2017 health IT purchasing survey by TechTarget.

In the survey of nearly 400 respondents from US healthcare provider, 30 percent cited tablets as their top mobile priority this year, 25 percent smartphones and 4 percent hybrid tablets. By comparison, 40 person indicated laptops were their foremost mobile priority.

Some CIOs said the widespread popularity of tablets is partially due to low prices. For example, commodity tablets can now be purchased for as little as $150. “In some cases, it’s more affordable than a mobile phone. It’s a relatively easy spend,” explains Kate McCarthy, a senior analyst covering health IT at Forrester Research.

But tablets have other advantages beyond affordability. They can provide greater independence for radiologists, referring clinicians, oncologists or surgeons who need to view imaging studies without being tied down to their work stations. While tablet screen quality is still not diagnostic-grade, it’s more effective than a smartphone and can be good enough in many situations.

Hospitals are also starting to use tablets for patient monitoring. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently launched an initiative using tablets for remote patient monitoring and population health. UPMC gave 800 patients with congestive heart failure a commodity 4G tablet and wireless-enabled pulse oximeter, blood pressure cuff and weight scale to remotely collect and transmit data to the care team. Tablets have also been adapted for inpatient bedside use, allowing patients to easily communicate with family, friends and caregivers.

4) IT pros use new techniques to keep security under control

Before mobile devices and Bring-Your-Own-Device policies became popular, hospitals were better able to control what data was accessed, how and by whom. But with the growing popularity of accessing health data on the go, there’s no end in sight for the uptick in mobile device use.

The challenge for IT teams is how to secure sensitive information on corporate- and and employee-owned devices. IT professionals have developed various security tools and techniques to tackle challenges around identity, device, application and content management.

  • Identity management systems like multi factor authentication (MFA) are a must to ensure that data is only accessible to authorized users.
  • Mobile device management (MDM) allows IT to lock a smartphone if its lost or stolen, and ensure that certain configurations are used to protect the device and the data it accesses.
  • Mobile application management is the new way to apply controls and restrictions to employee devices at the application level by containerizing content so it’s no longer accessible to a devices operating system and apps.
  • Advanced auditing and tracking allow hospital IT systems to proactively detect and address potential security issues with advanced monitoring that screens for any abnormal behavior.

While users feel comfortable with their lightweight “mini computers,” IT still faces the realities associated with implementing the right tools to protect health data.

Check out the cover story at SearchHeathIT.com to learn more about how mobile in healthcare is a strong prescription for improved patient care.