The Rise of Mobile Technology in the Healthcare Arena

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My colleague Jack Weber recently reminded us in a GS&P Dialogue post that, for most things design-related, "there's an app for that." In the healthcare arena, this statement is also becoming more of a reality every day as our healthcare clients grow increasingly interested in emerging technology trends. So what does this mean for us as architects and designers?

The integration of widespread technology – namely mobile technology – in healthcare design is a relatively new issue, but we've seen it in smaller degrees for many years. In the past, technology in hospitals was largely related to medication management. A good example is the Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) system, an electronic entry system for medical practitioners' instructions for patient treatment. It's used in many medical facilities throughout the country, and in combination with clinical-decision support systems, has been credited with substantially decreasing the frequency of serious medication errors.

HC Mobile InfoBut how are the healthcare technologies popping up today different from CPOEs and similar technologies we were introduced to a decade ago? According to Medical Construction & Design magazine's July 2011 issue, new technologies in healthcare are coming to pass not necessarily as a response to patient-safety and medication issues as they had in the past, but are actually a reaction to something we’re all familiar with: the rise in popularity and use of mobile devices (read: smartphones) and associated mobile platforms ("apps"). The need for physicians and clinicians to access patient information and clinical tools – from anywhere at any time – is greater than ever before, and it's becoming clear that smartphones and apps provide the opportunity for doctors to perform their jobs better – faster, smarter, more accurate, more advanced – across the board. In fact, a May 2011 survey by Manhattan Research showed that 81% of two-thousand polled physicians use smartphones as part of their day-to-day routines. So what kind of apps are they using?

Obstetricians use apps that allow them to keep track, in real-time, of fetal heart tracings and maternal contraction patterns. Cardiologists use apps that improve communication between EMS, emergency room and other cardiology teams during a patient's life-threating cardiac event. Dermatologists use a Skin Scan app that allow patients to scan and send photos of moles on their bodies and determine if treatment is necessary. There's also apps that simply serve to streamline workflow and improve efficiency and productivity within hospitals and doctors' offices.

It's important, though, for both healthcare clients and healthcare architects to keep a focus on patient privacy and patient-safety issues as these healthcare apps continue to evolve. And it's even more important for our clients to recognize the need for a long-term strategic plan for implementation of mobile technologies in their facilities. A piecemeal approach – a doctor downloads an app here, a nurse downloads an app there – doesn't make the impact that a well-developed vision can. Debbie Gregory, Senior Clinical Consultant for Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. (SSR) and president of The Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design, recommends the creation of a facility-led technology steering committee to ensure that, "prudent technology decisions are in place to maximize patient safety, patient-care delivery and an optimal healthcare environment."

AirstripThat's where our guidance as designers comes in: we create the facilities that will allow these tremendous new technologies to work in concert, improving every aspect of the patient experience. Through HCA's strategic collaboration with AirStrip Technologies, a leading healthcare software developer, we're already seeing the benefits of implementing a system-wide, patient-monitoring mobile software initiative.

"There’s an app for that" is a line that provides levity to a much more serious dialogue, taking place in hospitals throughout the nation, amongst healthcare leaders, practitioners, design professionals, builders and researchers.  By understanding the benefits that can be provided with the strategic implementation of a facility-wide mobile technology plan, healthcare designers have a tremendous opportunity to take our role as consultants to the next level. Let's continue to expand our knowledge of mobile technology trends and provide invaluable guidance to our clients as we steer them, one app at time, into the future of healthcare.

What mobile technology trends are you seeing emerge in the healthcare field? How are you implementing them?


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