Mobile technology implementation now top of mind for most docs

Two-thirds of physician practices have mobile technology as a top, or mid-level priority through 2012, according to a new study by research firm CompTIA. Essentially, if you're developing apps, links or connectivity for your affiliated physicians, it appears that now is the time to do it.

Medical apps, in particular, are on a huge upswing, with 38 percent of physicians using them on a daily basis, a number that's expected to rise to 50 percent in the next year.

One important step for hospital CIOs, though, may be managing the expectations of their affiliated physician practices when it comes to mobile tech's capabilities, Tim Herbert, vice president of research for CompTIA and author of the report, tells FierceMobileHealthcare.

"There is an undoubted 'cool factor' with smartphones and tablets, but bridging that cool factor and day-to-day workflows is still something physicians are resolving," Herbert says. "Expectations are a little ahead of what these devices can do."

Now may be the best time for hospital CIOs to meet with physicians, in focus groups or other venues, to help them understand the limitations of the technology, and to gauge physicians' actual use and needs for the devices, he adds

According to Herbert, one solution to the expectations vs. reality problem may be sandboxing--creating a safe environment for mobile-savvy doctors to test out the newest devices and apps. "You want to allow experimentation, and to stay ahead of the curve...and get feedback from physicians and nurses, but without fully turning over the entire network or data to the users," he says.

Herbert also sees mobile virtualization as a possible solution to the same problem--creating a work and personal segmentation to tablets or smartphones, so physicians perhaps can try new things on the personal side without endangering a professional network or other tools.

Another clear message from the research: Laptops no longer are the physician tool of choice. Rather, tablets and smartphones are the "next wave of mobile adoption," CompTIA officials say. A full 21 percent of physicians use tablets in their practices, a number that should double by this time next year.

Herbert cautions CIOs against jumping on the bandwagon completely, though, as some stubborn issues continue to dog the tablet's usability in healthcare. The biggest problem: data input. Despite a myriad of vendors working on the problem, physicians still have trouble inputting data onto tablets, and their preferred methods--dictation or typing in via keyboard--haven't quite been integrated into the tablets on the market just yet, he indicates.

Not surprisingly, the big focus for physicians and their mobile devices is connecting smartphones and tablets to hospital electronic health records. Roughly 33 percent of physicians are doing so already, with another 20 percent planning to transition to mobile EHR access in the coming year.

Only 10 percent of the survey's 400 respondents say they plan to conduct a video-conferencing visit in the year ahead. Still, more than 60 percent do see value in telemedicine, even if they're not implementing it just yet, according to researchers. Herbert suggests the problem may not be in physicians' interest in the technology, but their perception of having bigger IT fish to fry, like implementing an EHR. Or, perhaps physicians see telemedicine as an investment-heavy enterprise that requires special equipment rather than a simple video chat or video conference capability that is relatively accessible right now.

"I wouldn't say it's a lack of interest," Herbert says. It "may just be that there is a lot happening, and it's not a top priority just yet."

To learn more:
- read Nextgov story
- check out mHealthWatch's coverage
- get more detail from MobileHealthWatch