Will the "revolution" come from mHealth or EMR?

By Brian Dolan
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Brian DolanComputerworld recently published a skeptical overview of the wireless medical applications that various hospital groups are adopting. The article included some interesting scoops: CardioNet competitor LifeWatch had about 35,000 patients hooked up to its mobile phone-based heart arrhythmia monitor in 2007 and just 120,000 users now; Methodist Healthcare System is rolling out AirStrip Technologies LP's AirStrip OB mobile application, which sends fetal monitoring data to obstetricians.

That said, it ended with a disappointing conclusion from Gartner analyst Wes Rischel.

First, Rischel threw cold water on wireless health applications by pointing to the tepid uptake of RFID tracking for medical devices. Sure, they both use some form of wireless technology, but how does RFID's uptake relate to the potential of a wireless blood pressure cuff or connected blood glucose monitor? It doesn't. 

Next, Rischel said that technologies like the heart sensor patch that Dr. Eric Topol demonstrated at the CTIA conference are "incremental advances." "The real revolution in health care IT, Rischel said, will likely come from something else: increased deployments of electronic medical records systems and the resulting improvements in data-sharing among organizations." 

The federal government's effort to encourage all physicians and hospital groups to deploy electronic medical records (EMRs) may one day come to fruition. I'm in the camp that believes it will. While the challenges for EMR interoperability are staggering, the end result will correct a massive problem of inefficiency. And it's a long overdue correction.

From a patient's perspective, though, enabling different hospitals and clinics to share medical records is far from "revolutionary". In fact, it's more outrageous that the industry is still unable to do it fluidly. Sure, it will lead to better care for patients since all of their caretakers should have access to the same information leading to fewer repeated tests, fewer mistakes should follow and so on. That's still just correcting problems, though. 

The healthcare revolution will be patient-centered, participatory health care -- anytime and anywhere. Wireless cardiac sensors like the one Topol demonstrated last month will lead to improvements in data sharing -- not just among organizations -- but among patients and caregivers, too. That's the mark of a new era, not just a more efficient version of the old one.