Security no longer top mobile health concern: survey

December 05, 2012
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
Most health care executives predict mobile technologies will have a big impact on U.S. health care delivery, at first primarily with programs that could help curb hospital readmissions, according to the new HIMSS mhealth survey released Monday.

The second annual survey also found that doctors are using mobile apps mostly for speedier access to patient information, while lack of funding and IT staff topped executives' lists of mobile's biggest barriers. Also, about one-quarter of respondents had mobile devices fully integrated with electronic health records at their institutions.

"The mobile platform is arguably the largest technology platform in history," Anthony Shimkin, senior director of marketing at Qualcomm Life, which sponsored the survey, observed during the meeting. "Worldwide you're [seeing] that more people have access to this technology than to water, potable water, electricity and even a toothbrush."

Among surveyed executives, 68 percent believe mobile health will substantially or dramatically change U.S. health care, while 30 percent believe it will have little or no impact, according to the poll of 180 health care leaders shared during a session at the 2012 mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C.

Pharmacy management, such as medication reminders, and continuum of care, which includes apps that help extend service outside of the hospital and into the home, are now seen as the areas of patient care most likely to benefit from mobile tech, the survey said. Still, the numbers were somewhat modest. When executives were asked how useful the products were along a seven-point scale, with seven being the most useful, both received an average score of around 4 points.

Shimkin said both technologies have the potential to help hospitals tackle hospital readmissions, by helping patients with illnesses like congestive heart failure at home or trying to avoid adverse drug reactions.

Clinicians and devices

Smartphones are ubiquitous among health providers, and respondents said 80 percent of clinicians use the technology in the provision of care. However, they seldom use it often. When asked what percentage of patient care was delivered by doctors at the organization using mobile apps, three-quarters of respondents said less than half the time or none at all. Only 19 percent said mobile was involved in over 50 percent of care.

"While it's widespread and prolific in health care organizations, there's still lots of opportunity and lots of room to grow," Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research at HIMSS Analytics, said at the conference.

For clinicians, the most popular apps are viewing patient information, at 65 percent, and looking up non-protected health information such as clinical references, at 64 percent. Interestingly, both fell from the 2011 HIMSS mhealth survey, which found doctors used the apps at 84 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

Other popular app categories were clinical notifications, tracking work lists, education and training, and e-prescribing.

About one-third of clinicians use apps to monitor data from medical devices, such as patient monitors, according to the study, a number that was up a few percentage points from last year.

As for integration of data from medical devices with EHRs, the picture was a mixed one. About 22 percent of respondents said all data pulled from devices was captured by EHRs, while an almost equal amount, 21 percent, said none was. About 22 percent said less than a quarter of the data was captured by electronic records, according to the survey.

Barriers and policies

In general, respondents said lack of funding, trouble securing qualified IT staff and the "immaturity" of vendors were the biggest barriers to implementing mobile programs. These problems are also growing. Seventy-one percent of respondents said funding was a concern, up form 48 percent in last year's survey ,while 52 percent said staff was a concern, up from 39 percent in 2011. About half of respondents said vendor immaturity, new to this year's survey, was a worry. Security and privacy fears, however, dropped to fourth place in their list of worries. Just 43 percent identified it as a barrier, well below the 60 percent who picked it last year.

Even if security is not the grand fear it once was, organizations are moving to put policies in place to make sure mobiles are better handled, the survey said, often because they're worried about HIPAA compliance. Two-thirds of respondents have mobile policy in place, usually covering laptops, tablets, phones and movable workstations, an increase from 38 percent in 2011. Another 27 percent said they'll implement one in the future, typically within the next six months to a year.