How government agencies leverage mHealth, growing consumer expectations

As expectations by consumers grow when it comes to improved care through IT and mobile devices, technology is finally rising to meet them, according to panelists at the Federal Health IT Summit in the District of Columbia on Thursday.

The panelists, leaders at government agencies and hospitals, spoke about their roles regarding mobile and health IT, and where they see the future of technology going.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, technology director William Cerniuk said in his role he is responsible for the latest push to give healthcare providers iPads across the VA. In the last six months, he said, the VA has delivered 12,000 iPads to clinicians across the agency. The agency also is developing a series of 100 applications to be used on the iPads, which boast remote desktop capabilities.

"These apps will allow our clinicians to not only access the patient record in very efficient ways, but do it anywhere at any time," he said.

Julian Goldman, M.D., director of the Program on Medical Device Interoperability at Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke about his hospital's platform OpenICE, which is an inclusive clinical ecosystem for medical devices and clinical applications.

He said that often, the first mile in health IT is seen as getting patient data somewhere, such as to an electronic health record; however, he said it's a huge mistake to think of that as the first important hop.

"It's an important place, but it shouldn't be the place we think about as the goal because so much data is lost," Goldman said. Instead, the industry should prioritize getting information back to devices at the bedside and at the point of care, he said.

The National Institutes of Health is another agency that thinks mobility is huge, said Wendy Nilsen, Ph.D, a health scientist administrator for the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH. When looking at mobile in healthcare, she said, the industry is allowing health to capture the use of technologies that are more engaging and more fun to use. But questions remain, she said. "Can we bring health to people in real-time?" Nilsen asked. "Can we bring health to people when they need it?"

She also said the industry needs to give consumers tools and information in the way they need it and want it.

"If we give people raw information it's not useful," Nilsen said. "We have to take it and we have to make it into knowledge."

One problem in the industry when it comes to care and technology use is the lack of alignment of policies in the U.S., Goldman said.

For example, he said, there is no national structure to report common healthcare problems, such as common adverse events in hospitals. The U.S. also doesn't have a means to report patient injuries and deaths due to system issues to a central authority that could then tell agencies the problems they need to address, he said.

But the panelists concluded the talk with optimism about the future of the merger of healthcare and technology.

"We're really close to a tipping point," Carl Schulman, associate professor of surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said. "Technologies, in terms of ability of devices to communicate, ability of us to gather data and ability of systems to analyze [data], are getting so good that they're going to be able to do what we really want."

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