Let's cut hospital IT teams some slack on mHealth efforts

The advent of mobile healthcare in hospital settings is coming on the heels of likely the biggest tech challenge such institutions faced in decades: the implementation of electronic health record systems. And while it seems natural to expect hospitals to embrace mobile healthcare with enthusiasm, and do it well given the federal government's EHR efforts, that apparently is not the case, at least according to doctors. As we report this week a good majority of recently surveyed physicians believe, instead, that hospitals are giving "lip service" to mobile efforts.

A Spyglass Consulting Group study reveals that physicians are not too impressed with how hospital IT departments are approaching mHealth. According to the report, upwards of 70 percent of physicians believe hospital IT organizations are making "inadequate investments to address physician mobile computing and communication requirements at point of care due to limited planned investments, poor mobile EHR tools, and inadequate mobile user support."

Gregg Malkary, Spyglass founder and managing director, told me in an interview for the story that "hospital IT is still in the earliest stages of embracing mobile tools for physicians, nurses, ancillary staff and even in patients.

"They need to take a step back and develop an overall mHealth strategy to figure out what problem they are trying to solve and why mobility and other technologies would be appropriate for solving it," Malkary added. "This obviously requires getting direct end user feedback from physicians and other care team members."

My take: Perhaps the physicians polled by Spyglass are being a bit harsh and have unreasonable expectations regarding mobile efforts. It's more likely that hospital IT divisions just aren't moving as fast--or fast enough--to satisfy doctors who are embracing mobile devices in their own lives and practices, and who see it as a fast and easy technology to put in place, given all they've had to do is grab a smartphone or tablet.

Still, there are many hospital mHealth efforts taking place all over the U.S. In fact a new study reveals more than 50 percent of U.S. hospitals are using smartphones and or tablets, and 69 percent of clinicians are using both a desktop/laptop and a smartphone/tablet to access data.

New Jersey-based Morristown Medical Center now houses it's own mHealth app bar, called the "Health Connect" store providing patients, staff and visitors tech support and training on mobile software and devices. Patients and visitors can learn new tech such as blood pressure monitors, fitness trackers, wireless BMI scales and apps that provide healthcare data and insight.

And St. Rita's Medical Center in Ohio is deploying a smartphone-based platform which is helping medical staff stay in touch with the members of a patient's treatment team, decipher physician's orders and avoid potential care missteps.

So while doctors may believe IT divisions aren't tackling mobile technology innovation fast enough or with enough attention, what many may not realize is that mHealth is just as diverse and complicated as EHRs have proven to be.

Worries over data, device and system security are keeping Intermountain Healthcare Chief Information Security Officer Karl West awake at night and he is very transparent about what's keeping hospital IT teams a bit wary when it comes to mHealth.

"If we're going to embrace this mobile world, the way to do it is to find ways to enable, monitor, audit, control and put protections around the health data that is so vital," he said in a recent interview.

So let's give hospital IT teams some slack, respect, understanding and more than a bit of time to get mHealth in place, given that mobile isn't just about doling out smartphones and tablets and letting mobile communications prosper and take root. Mobile healthcare will happen and a good strategy and planning will go a long way toward avoiding most, and hopefully all, the potential security, privacy and regulatory potholes ahead. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)