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Killer Smartphone Apps for On-the-Go Physicians

Cynthia Johnson, July 10, 2009

"The patients don't have to wait," he says. "You don't have to play phone tag."

If the test results are abnormal, Khozin says he will e-mail the patient to provide further instructions regarding care. He may tell the patient to make an appointment in the office, but, most often, he says he can reach out using technology.

When reviewing results with patients in the office, Khozin is able to use his iPhone to graph data and display trends. "Patients find that very interesting," he says. "It's hard to do that with paperwork, but on the iPhone it's magnificent. With just a click of a button you have the patient's entire test history. When they're in the office, you can use that opportunity to educate them about what their numbers mean."

Khozin also prints or e-mails the patient educational materials through his iPhone. He says he would rather provide his patients with trusted content than have them scour the Web for it on their own.

"If there isn't enough time during an office visit to go through everything, it's very important for the physician to give the patient something to take home," he says. "There's tons of information online—too much information. I think the job of the physician is to use technology to direct patients to the right sources."

Making the call
Given all the tasks that smartphones can perform, it can be easy for users to forget that they can actually make phone calls with them, too. Eads can read basic e-mails from her patients on her smartphone, but she says she prefers to hear a patient's voice, because the tone of their voice provides her with information that can't be conveyed in word's, such as a patient's frustration level.

Eads has programmed all of her patients (she has a small, but growing technology-based, solo practice) into her smartphone as contacts. When they call her, she is able to identify them and has their pharmacy information if she needs to call in a prescription.

"I know exactly who it is and I'm ready to work with them when they call," she says.

Physician adoption
Eads doesn't think all doctors actually use their smartphones for their medical practice. She says many of them just use them because "they're fun." She chose her smartphone because she wanted to eliminate the number of gadgets that she was carrying around, specifically her mobile phone and her PDA. Having the smartphone helps her consolidate the tasks she needs to complete into one gadget.

Doctors will probably begin to adopt smartphones well before they adopt EMRs, Eads predicts. She says that it might even be the entry point into the technology arena for some physicians.

"I think they will be used more and more, especially by younger generation docs," she says. "I think even older physicians are going to start using it as they see their kids and grandkids playing with them and are exposed to the medical applications that are available."

According the Snyder, the average age of an Epocrates user is approximately 45 years old. "It isn't just the younger clinician anymore who is using the smartphone."

In order for physicians to adopt new tools and technologies, Khozin says that they need incentives. They are currently overwhelmed completing the paperwork and performing administrative tasks required to satisfy the needs of third parties and insurance companies.

"Insurance companies don't pay for email and video chat," he says. "We have to change our payment mechanism, be more responsive to delivery methods that are more efficient, and reward physicians for using those methods. If a doctor wants to video chat with patients, the insurance company should pay for that."

Bright future for tiny gadgets
Khozin believes that smartphones show a lot of promise given that healthcare delivery is becoming increasingly mobile. While office visits will never go away, they may not always be necessary. He says that if doctors reduce the number of unnecessary office visits and give patients the flexibility to communicate with their healthcare provider on the phone and computer, then everyone wins.

"There's a tremendous amount of potential," he says. "This is going to evolve and become more integrated into the process of delivering care."

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