The latest equipment for improving healthcare isn't a multimillion-dollar computer system. It's an inexpensive gadget that many of us have in our pockets: smartphones.
Applications that run on iPhones and other smartphones give healthcare providers and patients information and capabilities they need where and when they need them. The phones and apps are inexpensive and becoming ubiquitous. They provide doctors information and data, and give patients tools they need to take better care of themselves.
University of Louisville Med School uses the Epocrates smartphone app to enable students to access drug info.
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Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania is deploying smartphone apps to 5,000 to 10,000 patients to let them carry their medical histories with them when going from one doctor to another. The AllOne Mobile app makes it easier for doctors to share electronic medical records with each other, and patients can correct errors in their own medical histories.
"I have five kids -- remembering their birthdays is a hassle for me, let alone their medications. We thought if we provided members with a tool that they can use to store information, they'd be able to share information with providers," said Drew Palin, chief development officer for Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, which has about 600,000 members in 13 counties.
Data stored on the smartphone is encrypted for security, and requires a password to access. The application generates a one-time password that has to match with a password on the server to unlock the app. Low-bandwidth data, such as immunization and allergy records, is stored on the client, more data-intensive information, such as X-Rays or scans, are stored on the server.
"It's a typical IT architecture where there's some information stored in the cloud that synchs up with information on the phone. It doesn't synch all the data on the phone," Palin said.
Blue Cross is working on connecting the app with Microsoft HealthVault, and other physician health record systems, to help make the information more portable. "We feel it's [the members'] personal information. They should have a right to access it, and they should have a right of that information to be portable," Palin said. If a members chooses another insurance provider, the member should be able to take that information with them.
AllOne Mobile runs the cloud component of the service, while Blue Cross feeds the cloud with updates of patient information, such as demographics, insurance records, pharmacy benefit information, and all the drugs the patient is taking. Eventually, Blue Cross hopes to be able to include diagnosis summaries, although they are still working on building translators to handle the data.
The University of Louisville School of Medicine distributes Epocrates and medical-reference and calculator apps to 600 medical students. It frees up med students to spend more face-time with patients, and less time running to the nearest computer to look up information.
Students use the tools for classroom study and clinical work, giving them instant access to information, said Dr. Pradip Patel, associate vice-chair for medical education at the school.