Few technologies have had as much of an impact on health information as mobile phones. It is unusual these days to walk into an examination room and not find a patient on their mobile phone, looking up information, playing games, or communicating. Mobile phones are pervasive — with many lower income patients forgoing other needs in order to own a smart phone. What this does is place access in both the care provider and patient's hands pre, post, or during the encounter. With a wide range of excellent mobile apps and mobile-optimized healthcare websites freely available to both clinicians and patients, the patient management dynamic is shifting in ways that could not be anticipated as recently as two years ago. Home research and printing of articles by patients has been replaced by the immediacy and accessibility of mobile device access to the same information during or after a clinical encounter.
Electronic Medical Records provide physicians with more effective mechanisms to collect and evaluate lab results, identify patients at risk, or document clinical information. However, from the perspective of the patient, EMRs are provider-centric tools that do not provide access to information or empowerment, unless there is a patient portal and the portal is effectively used within the practice.
In contrast, mobile phones plus high-speed Internet access are pervasive and empowering for patients. Mobile apps are being used for smoking cessation, weight management, diet control, and exercise tracking. Similarly, patients are turning to their devices as a primary mechasnism to search for health information or ask questions of their support communities through sites such as patientslikeme. The information is often high quality and relevant and balances the power equation in the clinical encounter. Although physicians retain an edge in being able to recognize good quality health information, the gap is narrowing rapidly.
Mobile phones are the differentiator. If clinicians can find a way to leverage their patient’s energy and desire to find information and apply it to their health, mobile devices hold the potential to become powerful clinical tools in the management of many conditions. If physicians ignore this trend, they do so at their own peril.
Have your patients used their phones to share health information with you? Do you have any anecdotes or tips to share? Add your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.