Why More Clinicians Aren’t Using Smartphones & Medical Apps

In the fourth quarter of 2011 more than 150 million smartphones were sold worldwide?  In fact, an astonishing 46% of Americans who make use of mobile technology actually own a smartphone.  When you think about it that is an ocean of opportunity just waiting to be capitalized on.  

As we all know, in the medical field, we have seen a trend towards tablets and smartphones being used in medical clinics across the country.  You might have noticed your colleague tapping in medical results on his iPad or your medical assistant typing in a patient’s symptoms on an iPhone.  In fact clinicians are proportionally higher utilizers of smartphones, with physicians ranging from 30-80% (depending on the sources: Buijink 2012, Franko 2012, Manhattan Research, Epocrates) and nurses and physicians assistants ranging from 31-71% (sources Tabtimes, MobiHealthNews, Healthcare IT News).


The benefits of this technology truly are astounding, including the use of point of care tools and diagnostic services.  Best of all smartphones and tablets are portable, unlike the cluttered desktop computers that are quickly making their way to the door.  In fact tablets will likely be outselling desktop computers by next year.


You might be asking, if smartphones from a clinical perspective are so popular, why are some in the medical community still holding out?  That is likely a multifaceted answer. Likely contributors are perceptions around adoption, technophobia, costs, security, compatibility, workplace IT restrictions, and naivety.  And perhaps the fact that the screen is so small that you have to squint to see it in most cases…….but even that is a misconception as some better resolution then desktop screens, and can even help diagnose disorders of the eye in an ER.


Working in the medical environment, a streamlined process is an important part of your day-to-day dealings with patients.  From appointments to testing, follow up reports and recording results, a smartphone can give you the ability to review medical histories online or get the latest updates for a patient, wherever you are. 


The capabilities of a smartphone may not be what is preventing more physicians and clinicians from making use of the device, although the there are still plenty of limitations surrounding content (i.e quality of information may be a big problem).  Maybe it’s a more practical problem.  Concerns surrounding the cost and security of the device seem to be paramount, especially considering the recent buzz about privacy leaks in Android phones


It is also important to mention that in most offices and labs, a smartphone seems to be hard pressed to get any kind of signal, which isn’t particularly helpful when you’re conducting an examination and need to send results or a requisition.  Or for the many apps that rely on a network connection (something for developers to continually consider).


Sometimes, it comes down to what you know and for some physicians if what you are doing is working there is really no need to change it.  Unfortunately, this could very well be your undoing as the medical community continues to surge forward with this technology, leaving your practice behind. 


What is truly needed is an increased awareness of the functionality and capability of smartphones in the medical community as a whole as well as a better way to deliver this information to clinicians, be it through conferences or any other medium.  That in addition to building a level of trust in the information and value that they provide will be a key catalyst in global implementation. Both education and accessibility are what will really take mobile use in practices around the world to a whole new level.  


The gains that medicine can make by using smartphones is palatable and studies show that people who use smartphones are in fact, more productive.  The movement towards mobile doesn’t show any signs of slowing anytime soon, so jump on while the going is good and move your practice into modern medicine!  Ultimately, the question that every clinician is begging for an answer to, and what will ultimately drive standard implementation :  How does the use of medical apps change patient outcomes?


Do you use a smartphone & medical apps where you work? If not, what is stopping you?



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