MONASH University researchers have called for the development of guidelines on the use of mobile devices and medical apps in clinical practice to ensure safety and quality.
While there are many obvious benefits to mHealth applications, including access to information at the point of care and better communication between healthcare providers and patients, there are also some risks that need to be confronted.
In a paper published in the European Journal of ePractice, Monash University researchers and senior lecturers in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Jennifer Lindley and Dr Juanita Fernando write that WHO figures show more than a third of doctors and almost three-quarters of nurses use medical apps on smartphones daily for work purposes. They argue “it is imperative to scrutinise the use of mobile devices and medical apps in healthcare and develop a more considered and comprehensive approach.”
“While mobile devices provide many benefits to medical, nursing and allied health practitioners and their patients, mobile digital technologies in health care (mHealth) also has identifiable disadvantages and risks,” Ms Lindley said.
“In the case of an adverse event, who precisely is responsible - the app developer, the individual clinician user, the health care provider organisation or the government regulators?” Dr Fernando said.
The lack of governance and regulatory guidelines relating to the use of mobile devices in medical workplaces are additional concerns highlighted in the study.
Some of the benefits of mHealth include more convenient access to patient records through mobility of devices, improved communication between health professionals as well as improved efficiency and decision making.
However, the potential risks included infrastructure constraints such as bandwidth availability, distracters including email alerts and advertising banners and privacy and security issues.
“On mobile devices, icon badges, notifications, ‘pop-up’ alerts and constant availability of emails and internet access lead to distraction,” Dr Fernando said.
“Privacy and security issues in health care contexts are of particular concern to all stakeholders because of the sensitive nature of the data stored on the many mobile devices.
Ms Lindley said the development of apps was also ad hoc and frequently undertaken without input or critical appraisal by end-users.
“This can result in either variability of features or an app that does not perform the expected function,” Ms Lindley said.
Dr Fernando said best practice use of mHealth needed to be incorporated into the education of health care professionals, and curricula needs to provide the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes for future professional practice.
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