Physicians: Mobile Communication Saves Lives

Austin, Texas, February 8, 2013; Posted by Tracey Haas, DO, MPH, Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of DocbookMD

With the number of serious medical errors on the rise due to miscommunication between health care providers, it is shocking that there has been little meaningful change in this area in the past decade. Few changes would lower medical costs and improve health outcomes like opening communication between physicians. The Joint Commission has estimated that up to 80% of serious preventable adverse patient events are due to poor communication between health care givers, up from 60% estimated in 2007. Most of the communication breakdown occurs when care is handed off or transferred between providers. An in-depth study of reasons for this breakdown included lack of teamwork, lack of time, and lack of standardized communication tools. The Joint Commission also reports that deficiencies in communication lead to delays or even inappropriate treatment of patients, as well as increased length of hospital stays. They have also reported that twice as many deaths in the hospital are due to lack of communication than due to medical incompetence. So the question must be raised: If doctors know that lack of communication leads to worse patient outcomes, why are they still not talking?

Physicians are adopting the mobile platform for many types of communication within the healthcare arena quickly. No longer required to carry a pager and a PDA in addition to a cell phone, physicians find the smartphone allows an all-in-one device for these needs. The phone is now acting as a two-way pager, but with added benefits. Now, when a physician is not available, the smartphone can accept a text message, a voicemail, or even an e-mail message, leaving the option to return a message at the physician’s own discretion. Manhattan Research, which tracks technology utilization by healthcare providers, released a report two years ago that 81% of US physicians were using a smartphone – a number that no doubt is approaching 100% today. More than one-third also uses a tablet, almost entirely the iPad. In fact, iPad adoption among physicians has been reported to be five-times higher than that of the general population, with ease of use as the reason they prefer them to computer systems. 60-80% of users of computer-based hospital healthcare IT systems report dissatisfaction with those systems. Because the majority of physicians are already utilizing a smartphone or tablet, encouraging communication within the health care team will not appear to be a drastic change in use of health IT, but rather increased utilization of a common tool. Bottom line: Physicians must be allowed to use their own device for communication across the spectrum of the healthcare settings – patients’ lives may depend on it!

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