More Physicians Using Smart Phones to Access Lab Test Results and Other Clinical Information

With the advent of data-capable smart phones, disease management is taking a giant step forward. That has important implications for pathologists and clinical laboratory manager, who need to ensure that their medical laboratory information systems are ready for access by smart phones and other wireless devices used by clinicians.

Recent surveys show that physicians increasingly use their smart phones and other mobile devices to view test results and communicate with patients. In fact, in a recent report, Manhattan Research predicted that, by 2012, about 82% of physicians will have smart phones and more than half that number will use them for such tasks as administrative work, continuing medical education, and patient care.

Pathology Groups and Clinical Labs Prepare to Deliver Test Results to Smart Phones

Another March study by healthcare marketing firm SDI found that 30% of physicians already use some form of mobile device to access patient records. Physicians and nurses also use smart phones to access decision-support tools, reference materials, and mobile CME courses.

Physicians are not the only ones using mobile devices to access medical information. The Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals around the nation—recognizing how physicians are using smart phones and similar wireless devices—now offer smart phone applications that access physician referral services and information about the hospital. Some even offer a tool that lets patients request a medical appointment from their phone or other mobile device.

For example, the Hospital of Central Connecticut developed an iPhone application that gives patients access to real-time emergency room wait times. Another company took this idea a step further with ER Texting. This application lets patients enter their zip codes and receive wait times for the emergency rooms of hospitals in their areas.

Four years ago, the New York City health agency responsible for running its hospitals and clinics introduce a phone-based glucose monitoring system to keep track of diabetic patients’ blood sugar levels. Several times a day, the patient sends glucose data via modem to a nurse. If the reading is too high or too low, the nurse makes a call to find out what triggered the out-of-range diagnostic test result.

This real-time feedback helps patients make the connection between their actions and their glucose levels. According to Ann Frisch, Executive Director of New York’s home care division, more than 85% of diabetics in this program have seen significant improvement. Though the current system uses landline phones to transmit the data, a new, mobile version of the monitor is now available. The city will use the new mobile device with patients who do not have a landline.

There is new phone-based technology that has application in dermatopathology. This technology allows both patients and physicians to photograph suspicious lesions and send the images to a remote pathologist for analysis. The patient application makes it possible for a consumer to photograph a skin irregularity, then transmit the image to a computer which uses algorithms to evaluate the lesion.

A more sophisticated version of that idea uses a quarter-sized device that attaches to a cell phone camera lens. A fluid-sample slide can be placed over the device to create an image that is transmitted to a pathologist for analysis.

While these devices are not quite as advanced as the visionary “tricorder” introduced in the Star Trek television show more than forty years ago, the trend is definitely toward using mobile devices to transmit medical data. As the number of young physicians entering the work force increases, the trend will accelerate. Raised with computers and cell phones as ubiquitous tools of life, this generation of physicians will demand a high level of communication sophistication from their medical partners, including pathology groups and clinical laboratories.

The ever-increasing use of smart phones and wireless devices by physicians and nurses means that it won’t be long before significant numbers of providers want to use their smart phones to access and view clinical laboratory test data. First-mover pathologists and medical laboratory managers are responding to this nascent trend by developing the capability for their LIS (laboratory information system) to feed data in a secure fashion to the smart phones of client physicians.

For laboratory managers looking toward the future of the information systems, mobile-friendly formats should be as high a priority as electronic medical records compatibility. Those pathology groups and clinical laboratories which invest in technology solutions that support how physicians are using smart phones and similar wireless devices are likely to gain significant competitive advantage.

—K. Branz

Related Information:

Going Mobile, by Shawn Rhea, Modern Healthcare, May 3, 2010, pp. 28-30.