Growing Popularity and Use of Electronic Devices in Healthcare

Growing Popularity and Use of Electronic Devices in Healthcare – Ryan G., PT

An ever-growing and ever-aging population places increased demands on the infrastructure we as healthcare professionals work under.  Methods to increase efficiency and productivity while also increasing patient/client satisfaction are in high demand from small healthcare businesses like a mom and pop outpatient clinic to large hospital networks around the country.  We live in the age of computers, and the technology they provide has opened the door for several interesting innovations as well as having paved the way for more to come.

Electronic Documentation:

For rehab specialists, documentation has always been a staple under scrutiny from insurances and other professionals.  Electronic documentation programs have provided therapists a means to deliver accurate and detailed information in an efficient manner.  An added bonus exists where numerous programs have begun to add template phrases and goals that attempt to make a therapists’ documentation as legally defensible and accurate as to avoid insurance denials and potential legal issues down the road. 

However, some pitfalls exist with electronic documentation. One such example is that having all these templates ready for you to point and click on can dumb down the science of therapy documentation.  I have often found myself typing a little extra in my own words in a narrative section as to avoid this numbing affect.  The templates can also make a therapist lazy.  As with other forms of technology, an easier path does not necessarily make it better, and therapists must remember that simply pointing and clicking as fast as possible to be done cheats their patients, themselves, and could lead to trouble with patient outcomes down the road.

 Game System or Rehab Tool?

Use of the Nintendo Wii has become a commonplace adjunct to occupational therapists and physical therapists in numerous rehab settings.  Gaining popularity in skilled nursing facilities, the Wii provides geriatric patients the chance to participate in games and activities they previously were thought unable, and challenge their strength and ROM capabilities at the same time.  Joining the rehabilitation ranks is the Microsoft Kinect which has recently outlined plans to take the technology a step further with creation of virtual avatars to act as counselors and therapists with patients from the comfort of their own home.  The patients are afforded the ability to anonymously submit information to an avatar that relays the information to a specialist at a computer else where with expertise in fields ranging from PT, OT, psychology, and so on. 

Enter the iPad:

Take into account the increased popularity of the iPad over the last year or so, and the other brands that have emerged and combine that with the applications that abound with each piece of hardware.  Using apps like FaceTime is opening doors for tele-rehabilitation with the use of these devices.  A pt can sit at home and speak one on one with his therapist and relay how the current home exercise program (HEP) is going, or ask the therapist questions on the proper form of an exercise.  Take that a step further and therapists can charge air time for patients to dial in and pose several questions about a recent injury and whether or not they really need to seek out medical attention beyond that of a face to face interview with a trained therapist.  Nothing can replace the hands on touch or manual skills a therapist can provide in the clinic, but giving patients access to the aforementioned communication forms so they can seek out the proper specialist, can save health care dollars and direct them toward the proper efficient and accurate care.

 Is it a Mobile Device or Medical Device?

As mentioned with the new iPads, smart phones have a growing popularity in healthcare.   The FDA has recently begun to investigate the efficacy of using a smart phone or similar mobile device to remotely administer insulin, inflate a BP cuff, or maybe go as far as to adjust a patient’s pacemaker settings using the results from a remote telemetry reading.  Similar uses of the mobile devices as medical devices has already begun where the general population can download an app that assists with diet and lifestyle modifications by measuring BMI, tracking eating habits, and suggesting exercises and durations.  Take this a step further, and patients in cardiac rehab moving to phase 4 can use a smart phone application to continue on with the habits and rehab they developed in stages 1 through 3.

 Looking Forward:

Daily advances in technology are yielding new and innovative methods to deliver efficient, effective, and enthusiastic quality care to all types of patients.  Estimates in the growth of technology state that by 2020, 50 billion “things” will have some sort of Internet connectivity.  I myself must use two hands to count the number of “things” I use or own that can connect to the Internet.   In terms of healthcare, the advances and new developments never cease.  In 2009, the first artificial hand with sensation and feeling was created by Italian and Swedish scientists while, in 2010, retinal implants were given to the blind to restore vision, and, in 2011, Texas scientists developed a “spinning” heart that is reported to have no blockages, no breakdowns, and, interestingly, no pulse.  A technology called 3D printing is on the horizon and could essentially be one day used to create human organs to eliminate the long wait lists for organ donations.  With all these advances in technology that make our lives as rehab specialists easier, and, more importantly, the lives of our patients better, we find ourselves in an exciting era of healthcare.