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New Definition for "Apps": The Smartphone Market for Medical Software

Posted Apr 23 2010 12:00am

Back in the day, the term apps, an abbreviated form of application, was used to refer to software programs in general. However, I became aware via a podcast, Behind This Week's Cover Story ( The Apps Economy ), that the definition had shifted when I wasn't looking. The term apps now refers, at least in popular culture, to any of the small programs that can be downloaded from a web site like iTunes and then run on an iPhone or other smartphone. The importance of apps has recently gone ballistic with the announcement by Steve Jobs that apps will be a vehicle for channeling advertisements to iPhone users (see: Steve Jobs Promises Developers That Apple’s iAds Won’t “Suck” and Will Make Them Money ). This is a strategic move against Google by Apple to capture more advertising revenue. By way of comparison, Google's main source of revenue is search-based ads and the company is betting that smartphones, in time, will be commonly used to launch more web searches than PCs. Google is also entering the smartphone market with the Android operating system and the Nexus One phone.

Keep an eye on this apps software market as it relates the devices in the pockets of healthcare professionals. I have commented previously on the use of smartphones for reaching out to them as major users of hospital clinical data, particularly that of the clinical labs (see: Smartphones as the New PCs; Connecting to Healthcare Professionals and Consumers ). There's already a host of IPhone apps developed specifically for physicians (see: Physicians Using an iPhone Application to Triage Their Patient ).

I believe that hospital-based physicians and nurses will be more inclined to use their iPhones, and other types of smartphones, than the hospital-provided terminals at nursing stations and patient rooms. If hospitals set up barriers preventing access to their EMRs by smartphones, they will ultimately need to dismantle them. Physicians will favor the use of a single, readily available device for access to the hospital EMRs. The  smartphones in their pockets will serve this purpose nicely. As the available memory of smart phones expands, physicians will also store patient records across care episodes for comparison purposes. I know! I know! Smart phones can be dropped and also misplaced. None of this will be accomplished without appropriate security measures.

Many hospital executive and EMR vendors will fight this trend toward smartphone use by physicians and nurses but will ultimately lose the battle. Their major argument against such use will be security and HIPAA. Another underlying reason is that most EMRs are based on older technology and cannot be easily adapted to web-oriented functions. In the final analysis, opponents will come to realize that smartphones are the new PCs and patients will derive great benefit from having their records in the "pockets" of physicians around the clock. Such access will also accompanied by easy access by physicians to professional web reference sites regarding such topics as drug doses and diagnostic assistance.

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