Mobility: Its true measure in healthcare IT

Much thought and focus is being devoted to the future of health care delivery and the role that  mobility will play. For example, Fierce Mobile Healthcare’s Sara Jackson recently brought up an interesting question: will hospitals need chief mobility officers? She argues that mobility represents a transformational paradigm shift in our ability to deliver and receive care, and such a shift needs an enterprise-level focus that crosses people (HR/COO), process (COO) and technology (CIO/CTO) functions.

But while organizations and solution providers are identifying mobility needs and executing mobility programs, they often fail to think deeply about what mobility truly means. As a result, mobility is often defined in narrowly technical terms, with the focus placed on devices (iPhone, Blackberry), operating systems (Android, Blackberry OS, iOS, Symbian, and others), and the related issues of signal coverage, bandwidth (3G/4G/LTE), system security, and data management.

However, mobility in health care is about more than just mobile devices. For example, when I asked fifteen Kaiser Permanente physicians what mobility meant to them, I got many answers: “remote monitoring,” “care anywhere,” “telemedicine,” and “virtual diagnosis.” All focused on the ability to provide service anywhere; none dwelled on technology.

All of which brings me to my central stance: The most effective way to frame a mobile strategy is as an ecosystem comprised of multiple components that work together to enable mobile behavior.

Patients, providers, and payers are already buying into the mobile way because it is convenient and effective. Care interactions are happening in an increasingly wide range of locations: hospitals, rural clinics, mobile health vans, homes, or even during the course of a person’s daily activities. The core objective of a mobility strategy should be to develop processes, organizational structure, and technologies that support and nurture these interactions.

With a mobile strategy focused on outcomes, we can make these experiences even richer and more capable, delivering daily care and monitoring, critical care, health administration, specialty care, and ancillary support services “anywhere, anytime.” As David Aylward points out in his HBR Blog, mobile health could be a major force multiplier, empowering multiple constituents by breaking physical boundaries and providing true end-to-end information transparency across the care continuum.

By thinking about mobility as a business and functional proposition, not merely a technical one, we can use the familiar “people, process, technology” framework to develop some useful models for a mobile environment.

We already know that the people will be mobile. The process—the health care organization’s core operating model, its end-to-end process of delivering care to its customers, its malleability to the new care continuum—should be amenable to a world where physical boundaries are immaterial—even irrelevant.

The technology then becomes whatever is necessary to deliver that experience in a scalable, secure manner while adhering to the needs and standards of each health care organization. Take some simple examples: a patient’s health records should be instantly available no matter where they are: hospital, clinic, or pharmacy. From the care professional’s perspective, mobility might mean the consistent ability to access support resources no matter where they are, whether it’s traveling from location to location, or even room-to-room within a single facility. Mobile devices may play a part in delivering these services, but they’re only the visible tip of a much broader supporting infrastructure. In some cases, the endpoints that deliver these mobile services may not be mobile themselves.

So, while gadgets and applications are glamorous and exciting, the true measure of mobility is far broader and multi-dimensional than just the devices we hold in our hands.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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