Mobile technology needs to be embraced in Meaningful Use push

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As hospitals struggle with electronic health record implementation and qualifying for meaningful use (MU) incentives, don't forget mobile connectivity is a key part of the battle. A panel I recently moderated at the World Congress Leadership Summit on mHealth made a case for smartphone and tablet apps providing a clear path to meeting several of the MU criteria.

"I think mobile is the cornerstone of true meaningful use," Kevin Larsen, chief medical information officer for Minneapolis-based Hennepin County Medical Center, said. He should know: He plans to file for MU in the next month or so.

But he's not the only one who thinks so. Dr. Jagadish Navare, a practicing physician at ENT Specialty Care in New York, told HealthITExchange.com blogger Jenny Laurello last week that a major key for MU is linking physicians and patients to their EHR data, something for which mobile technologies are perfect.

"Any devices that make it easier for physicians to interact with electronic health records, while maintaining focus on the patient, help to achieve meaningful use by enabling the use of certified EHRs by physicians," Navare said.

I talked with Larsen about his Meaningful Use journey, and how connecting his EHR via a mobile strategy is helping him meet certain criteria. Larsen mentioned several areas, including:

Boosting e-prescribing. Under the "improving quality, safety and efficiency" category, electronic prescriptions are a top priority. Mobile tech such as smartphone and tablet apps, will be crucial going forward to getting physicians to prescribe online, keep electronic tabs on drug/drug and drug/allergy interactions. Larsen said he is working to add e-prescribing to his existing tablet app, as well as a smartphone app for providers due out this December.

Connecting EHR updates (maintaining an up-to-date problem list of current and active diagnoses, as well as up-to-date lists of meds and med allergies). Also under the "improving quality" category, bedside and remote access to the patient record--and the ability to update problem lists during, or right after, a patient visit.

This is another project on the runway at Hennepin County, Larsen said. Right now, the EHR, while fully deployed on laptops and some tablets, remains read-only, which allows clinicians to have access to patient data, but not to update it. Pushing it to accept data input from mobile devices is the next step.

On the mobile side, though, Larsen believes that mobile-enabled voice recognition remains the missing link. While smartphones and tablets are great for accessing and displaying data, they're terrible for data input. So until physicians can simply dictate notes and updates into their smartphones or tablets, this might happen a little slower than some other criteria.

Recording vital signs. Remote sensor monitoring is a promising way to meet this "improving quality" criteria, allowing data on patient vitals to be collected automatically and updated to the patient record.

Facilitating patient and family engagement. On this criteria, patients have made it clear they prefer mobile communication whenever possible (text messaging, email, smartphone apps, etc.). Larsen has had an online patient portal for a year, and a smartphone app linked to that for at least six months. The app allows patients and their families to get test results, messages, health advisories and health summaries from their electronic record.

Larsen also pointed out that patients clearly want information such as health reminders, follow-up messages and preventive care alerts sent electronically.

Improving care coordination. Larsen said that providers will get closer to meeting this goal as physicians are able to communicate with other clinicians, access messaging and read the latest EHR notes via smartphone or tablet. A great example at Hennepin County has been in home care, where air-card-enabled laptops allow nurses to access the entire clinical record, including all notes, discharge summaries, comments, while in the patient home.

What do you think? How else can mobile technology help the Meaningful Use process? I'd love to hear your suggestions! - Sara