Challenges in mHealth tech integration are real

Unfortunately, I've had several experiences in the past few months requiring time spent in a hospital setting, an emergency room and a physician's consulting office. The reasons why aren't necessary to share, but the use of mobile technology in all those situations is.

In each scenario the use of mobile devices was frustrating for caregivers, as well as for caretakers and patients.

In the hospital room setting two nurses weren't very happy with the mobile diagnostic computer-on-a-cart being implemented to track patient treatment from medications given to blood pressure readings. Both were frustrated with the software and the many, many data fields to complete and slow response. They related that while the carts were meant to help them in their jobs, using them took much more time than paper-tracking processes and took their attention away from patients overall. It's tricky to talk to a patient and make eye contact while typing on a keyboard. The patient, in response, felt little connection with the healthcare staff and felt attention was limited.

In the emergency room the surgeon spent much less time talking with a patient about an impending surgery, and later during the post surgery check, than he did at the computer station located more than several feet away. Where once he could talk and take notes at a bedside, he was now prompted to ask a few questions, get on the PC and enter data, and then return for a few more questions. It made for an awkward interaction, he admitted, adding he found that it still was best approach for ensuring correct and up-to -date data was entered in the computing system. The recovering patient, however, kept wondering why the doctor kept coming and going and it seemed to heighten anxiety both before the surgery and after.

At the conference table scenario, a physician sat with a patient and began using a tablet to enter information and discussion feedback while also attempting to access a nearby hospital's scheduling system to set a surgery date. As anyone can attest, conversation while someone's attention is on a digital device is stunted and a bit frustrating. The doctor was absorbed in fixing some error message he kept getting and intermittent access to the Web-based application used by the hospital.

In each interaction the doctor, the patient and the caretaker came away from the experiences feeling more frustrated than content and that doesn't help anyone or the process of treatment.

It's obvious from the headlines and constant stream of new apps, devices and innovation that mHealth is moving fast in terms of hardware, software and infrastructure advancements. But the same cannot be said for the human element and actual use of mobile tech tools in many situations.

It's time for the medical industry, the technology industry and the users (from doctors, to nurses, to caregivers and payers) to tackle the critical aspect of use and deployment so that mHealth tool integration into the treatment and care process advances just as fast as the technology. Training, best practices in managing device use during patient interaction and developing easier tools are initial steps that can be taken.

Otherwise it could easily become a situation where the best mobile tech and tools actually hinder patient care and the critically needed connection between patients and caregivers. That human communication element is vital to recovery and treatment and always will be. - Judy (@JudyMottl and@FierceHealthIT)

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