Clinical Pathology Laboratories Will Need to Securely Make Lab Test Data Available to Mobile Device Users

Use of handheld mobile devices by physicians and nurses is exploding. This trend has important implications for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, since clinicians quickly demand to access laboratory test data on their handheld mobile devices.

However, it is hospitals and health systems which are the first healthcare institutions that need to find a solution to enable appropriate use of handheld mobile devices by physicians, nurses, and other caregivers. Despite the efforts of chief information officers (CIOs) to maintain control over their institution’s informatics network, doctors and nurses are bringing their personal handheld mobile devices into the hospital and want to use them to access healthcare data.

No pathologist or clinical laboratory manager should be surprised at this development. Just as adults of all ages are purchasing iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Blackberries, and similar types of smartphones for personal use, it is only natural that these same individuals—as physicians and nurses—would want to use them in their patient care duties.

This summer, Healthcare Informatics Magazine described the handheld device trend as “explosive,” and the source of both challenges and opportunities for healthcare organizations. It observed that hospitals were using “a diversity of approaches” to accommodate the interest and demand by medical staff to utilize handheld mobile devices in their daily duties.

Notably, middle-aged physicians and nurses are not shy about adopting these mobile devices. Healthcare Informatics offered the experience of 805-bed Sarasota Memorial Hospital as validation of this trend. In 2009, the hospital became an alpha site for a product called the Voalté One. Starting this July, it went live on two of 12 patient care floors, as well as all critical care units in the hospital. It is deployed on iPhones.

Healthcare Informatics reported that nurses were enthusiastic adopters of the technology. It allows them to send and receive secure, encrypted text messages and receive critical care alerts. The numbers tell the story. Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Vice President and CIO, Denis Baker, described a wholesale embrace of handheld mobile devices. “We got a report from Voalté last week that our 100 phones are generating 15,000 messages a week,” he said, oberserving that “the average age of our nurses is 46 or 47.”

Baker noted that one reason behind this large volume of messages is that nurses find the use of secure, encrypted texting of short, routine messages to each other to be quicker than placing a phone call. It also tends to be less disruptive of the nurses’ patient-care workflow.

These statistics affirm that this is a trend that will have staying power. Healthcare Informatics offered another example, this time involving the UPMC Health System, which is respected for its advanced use of informatics. Reporter Mark Hagland wrote:

The 485-bed UPMC Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh: At one of the 20 hospitals that make up the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health system, CIO Bruce Haviland, working with Bill Fera, M.D., a UPMC physician informaticist, has deployed fully-secured BlackBerry Curves for nurses on patient floors. Using a system of drop-down menus, nurses are successfully sending brief, time-sensitive yet routine “quick-text” messages to one another. The program, launched several months ago, has been very effective and very well received by the nurses, Haviland says.

“The hospital is allowing individual physicians to bring whatever handheld mobile device they wish into the hospital. However, those devices are restricted to the general, unsecured Wi-Fi access that any individual, including guests, would have, and are carefully kept out of any potential contact with the hospital’s Citrix server. Meanwhile, as at countless hospitals nationwide, Fera and other clinical informaticists are testing out the potential of the iPad for physician use; but Fera and Haviland don’t see a large organizational role for iPads at this point in time.”

For clinical laboratories and pathology groups seeking to understand how to interact with handheld mobile devices, good advice comes from Mac McMillan, CEO of the Austin, Texas-based firm CynergisTek, and the current chair of the Privacy and Security Steering Committee of the Chicago-based Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). McMillan noted that “Everybody is attacking security from a point-solution perspective, in other words, focusing on the device instead of focusing on the data. And, if you are literally relying on some control over every device that comes along, you’ll never stop chasing that rabbit.”

McMillan next recommended a strategy that CIOs could use to “limit their risk by limiting where clinical information lives and where it moves. If I configure the system to disallow users from moving data around, I’ve limited the amount of exposure related to mobile devices. And that’s where things like DLP [data loss prevention software] come in.” Technology like this would allow McMillan to “look at what any particular user should be allowed to do and where they’re allowed to use it.”

Another aspect of the trend of handheld mobile devices needs to be acknowledged. This is a “bottom up” trend, not “top down.” It is physicians, nurses, and other caregivers who are pushing their hospitals’ information technology departments to support use of their personal iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries. That is another sign that adoption of handheld mobile devices will be widespread and long-lasting.

That means pathologists and clinical laboratory managers should assess how their laboratory information system (LIS) will interact with handheld mobile devices. Use of handheld mobile devices for healthcare purposes will increase at a remarkably fast pace.

Oh, and one more thing! Put iPads on your lab’s radar screen. Sales of Apple’s new handheld computing devices are going through the roof. By the end of 2010, Apple will have sold 12 million iPads. Financial analysts are predicting that iPad sales will total 28 million units by the end of 2011. Dark Daily expects that it won’t take long for tech-savvy Gen Y physicians to put these robust handheld computing devices to work in their medical practice—and lab test data is something they will be quick to request from clinical laboratories.

Related Information:

Handheld Juggernaut: The Explosion in Handheld Mobile Device Adoption is Posing Challenges as Well as Offering Opportunities

 Handhelds in Healthcare: The World Market for PDAs, Smartphones, Tablet PCs, Handheld Monitors & Scanners

Healthcare Mobile Devices Forecast To Gain 7% (InformationWeek Article)

Apple iPad Sales Projected to Hit 28 Million in 2011