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Going mobile isn’t seamless, but strategic decisions on how to work such devices into workflow practices can yield efficiency gains.
Many primary care physicians mainly rely on desktop computers, taking time during or between patients to sit at their desks to enter data, according to healthcare IT consultant Rick Shepardson.
Mobile, however, could help physicians boost their productivity, he and other experts said.
“It can help make better use of a physician’s time,” said Amelia Coleman, M.Ed., director of the practice management consulting group at MBA HealthGroup, who added a growing number of physicians are interested in using mobile devices at their practices.
Swapping out a desktop computer for a mobile device isn’t a plug-and-play move-even if mobile is only a complement to using a desktop and laptop. Health IT experts said physicians need to consider how they’ll use mobile devices, understand the limits of the devices and the electronic health record (EHR) software, and then work the mobile functions into their workflow practices to maximize results.
Coleman said most EHR vendors offer mobile versions of their applications, although she cautioned that “some vendors are doing mobile better than others.” These mobile versions don’t replace desktop applications; rather they give physicians the ability to work on the go via tablets and/or smartphones. Many mobile versions feature the same functions and workflow processes as the desktop versions, creating a more seamless switch to mobile for physicians. Not all vendors offer that, though.
Additionally, even when physicians can adopt a mobile EHR platform that mirrors their desktop versions, she said physicians will still have to adjust to the touchscreen functionality of mobile devices and determine the best ways to use them in their day-to-day work to create the most benefits.
Physicians also can opt for task-specific mobile apps, such as a messaging app that can work in conjunction with their EHRs, IT experts advised.
Coleman said physicians who adopt a tablet but then use it like a desktop by simply typing notes into it at their desks aren’t going to see the same benefits as physicians who use it during clinical visits and while moving around to maximize the use of their time.
She also sees doctors use the mobile EHR apps to handle prescription refill requests and patient inquiries throughout the day, helping eliminating administrative tasks that can pile up for the end of the day.
“[Mobile] can really be a vehicle for making a practice more efficient, if you’re being smart about the applications you’re choosing, whether it’s a mobile version from your EHR vendor or a third-party mobile app that integrates with your EHR,” she added.
Going beyond the EHR
Physicians don’t have to move all their EHR-related work from their desktops to a mobile device to see benefits, experts said.
Coleman said many health IT vendors offer mobile apps for specific tasks. For example, some vendors offer secure messaging apps with access to patient records. She said physicians who use this to respond to patient inquiries during brief periods of downtime, such as between scheduled visits, have cut down on the time they need at the end of the day to handle such requests.
“Doctors can be more accessible but have less time pressures than if they were beholden to the [desktop] computer,” she said.
Meanwhile, Shepardson, director of optimization solutions at Nordic Consulting Partners, which advises healthcare organizations on implementing and optimizing EHRs, said physicians might opt to incorporate secure video visits via their mobile devices, as many mobile versions of existing EHR applications come with that capability; he noted that studies show video visits can be significantly shorter than in-person visits, allowing doctors to maximize their time.
“Everything is moving to mobile,” Shepardson said. “It’s just a matter of having the right technology and the right user experience to support it.”