Mobile technology should enhance work of human providers

January 1, 2010

Don't get caught up in the technology and devices; focus on the workflow and end user

For healthcare executives, the key is to not get caught up in the technology itself, but to view it as a means of improving human performance in-and satisfaction with-the healthcare experience. In other words, mobile technology should enhance the work of human providers, rather than seek to replace them.

Best of all, mobile technology is exactly that: mobile. Savvy healthcare veterans don't limit its role to a healthcare facility, but extend it out into the community to ensure its impact is felt by as many people as possible.

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The first hurdle to using mobile devices in a community outreach program is finding technologies that the target population has access to and is willing to use. Studies have shown that more than half of all U.S. physicians own some type of smart phone, but they aren't common in the general population.

"While it would be great if a doctor could remotely see your blood pressure or blood glucose readings on your BlackBerry, there just aren't enough of those devices in use yet," Dr. Kvedar says. "That's why we look for the 'lowest common denominator' technologies. We do a lot with text messaging, because almost everyone with a mobile phone can send and receive them. It reaches a broad audience but still can deliver a powerful message."

The center has two major text-message-based initiatives underway, each of which targets a highly vulnerable population. The first sends texts to remind pregnant teens to come in for their prenatal visits, and the other sends texts to substance abusers who are enrolled in addiction programs as a reminder to come in for their visits.

But even though 70% to 80% of the people in those two groups have mobile phones with text messaging capability, getting the reminder to them is only half of the battle. The other half is getting them to act on it, and who the message comes from is almost as important as the message itself, Dr. Kvedar says.

"It makes a big difference when the reminder comes from the patient's own healthcare provider, as opposed to a vendor or even a health plan," he says. "If you want your acceptance rate to go up, have a doctor or nurse recommend the service directly."