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Health IT Trends in 2012: Clouds and Mobile Health

Posted Jan 04 2012 10:00am
This coming year should be a very exciting time for health IT. With coming IT enabled changes in payment models, continued efforts at obtaining meaningful use incentive payments, switching to ICD10, and intense focus on health information exchange we will stay very busy. Two areas that I believe are going to show a lot of activity in the coming year are cloud services for healthcare and mobile health. There is also opportunity for the two of these trends to intersect as cloud services can be a solution to provide greater capabilities to platforms for mobile health information delivery, access and communication.

Hospitals, health systems, and physician practices are beginning to consider cloud-based solutions for the storage of patient health information. Lower cost, reliability, and pervasive availability are some advantages to moving to the cloud. However, there are serious legal and regulatory issues which must be considered before storing sensitive patient data in the cloud. For instance it is not entirely clear is whether, and under what circumstances, and to what extent, a cloud services provider would be considered a business associate under HIPAA.And the HITECH Act expanded the definition of business associate to include in some cases subcontractors who are simply "downstream entities." So my advice is to proceed cautiously, but I still believe cloud is a very viable option in many cases. Cloud computing presents a huge potential for hospitals, health systems, physicians and even health insurers to obtain and maintain cost-effective databases. Web based applications have some attractive features that will allow for more seamless exchange of health information. And there are some very good cloud based EHRs on the market now that I will discuss in future posts.

Mobile health (mHealth) is another area that is showing remarkable growth. So much so that HIMSS has started a new platform, mHIMSS , dedicated to progress on technology, policy, security, and implementation surrounding mHealth. mHIMSS is available for all existing active individual HIMSS members at no additional cost. This should be a very good resource. To be honest, I get most of my mHealth news from MobiHealthNews , and excellent website run by Brian Dolan. Very simply mHealth describes the practice of medicine and public health, supported by mobile devices. There is little doubt that the online health-information environment is going mobile. According to a Pew Internet study in 2010 17% of cell phone users have used their phone to look up health or medical information and 9% have apps on their phones that help them track or manage their health. I think these numbers have likely increased and we will see much higher adoption rates. And doctors are also embracing mobile technology. A report from Jackson & Coker found that 4 out of 5 practicing physicians use their personal mobile devices in their daily practice, from prescribing medicine to scheduling patient follow-ups and entering billing data.

And these two trends will have a synergistic effect upon each other, as mobile drives greater need for cloud services, and cloud computing opens up greater opportunities for innovation in mHealth. Mobile devices have limited computational capacity so using cloud computing to help off load some of the processing allows greater flexibility in applications. With web based applications optimized for mobile viewing, this opens up possibilities for tablet and smartphone use in ways not previously available. Combing cloud computing and mHealth makes for ubiquitous computing that allows the health data to be available where and when it's needed.
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