The Tricorder

The Future is Mobile

Guest Editorial

What an amazing time to be alive.

Not only are we mere months away from Star Trek making its vaunted return to network television, but all indications are that we are on the cusp of having one of the most iconic bits of Star Trek technology available in real life: the tricorder is in development, people.

The best part isn’t that reality is imitating art (that’s just a bonus), but that healthcare is transforming to incorporate greater utility, deployability, and accessibility. This all comes from greater mobility–the essence of any functioning tricorder.

Until we can unleash the tricorder, we have to make do with things like smartphones. Currently 92 percent of all Americans own a cell phone (68 percent qualify as smartphones), which means pretty much everyone who is ever going to have one, has one. That also makes mobile devices–especially smartphones–very nearly the best way to deliver healthcare, especially to those who lack a viable means of otherwise accessing care non-remotely. Even if you don’t have one, you are statistically bound to be proximate to someone who does.

On this basis, along with the growing sophistication of telemedicine, it seems safe to say that mobile is the future of all healthcare.

Mobile is the future of Security:

Healthcare is the softest security target we have today. That title used to belong to the U.S. credit card industry (and finances in general by extension), but credit cards have adopted their own proprietary security solution known as EMV chips. The EMV rollout is still underway, but in the meantime cyber thieves have shifted their focus to the health IT sector, and it has proven lucrative.

As far as finance is concerned, there is a fair bit of evidence suggesting that mobile–not EMV chips–is the future of payment anyway. Smartphones are getting better at integrating security solutions, including (and especially) biometric security. From fingerprints to retinal scans to facial recognition, passwords are looking just so 20th century that is doesn’t seem long until we won’t have to worry about which permutation of “Password1234” we haven’t used already.

When our healthcare records are mobile-accessible and decentralized from each and every hospital, doctor’s office, insurance company, and clinic, it will be up to mobile technology to keep them secured as well as accessible. Speaking of access–

Mobile is the future of Accessibility:

I don’t really care where you think the smart money is–FHIR, blockchain, some combination of the two, or some super-powered free market solution the feds and bureaucrats never saw coming–the bottom line is: interoperability is on its way in, and it will be sticking around. The notion of proprietary ownership, access, or even authorship is going to be eroded the more patients and other stakeholders grow accustomed to having access and control of access to their health records. This is half of the patient-centered medicine equation, and the other half entails greater patient accountability, right along with greater clinician accountability in the form of quality metrics, better information-sharing, and more rapid deployment of cutting-edge research and emergent best practices.

But for starters, the data of healthcare is going to go mobile, and it will be up to the rest of us–patients and providers alike–to keep up and make it work. Fortunately, it likely won’t be up to us as individuals entirely, because part of this accessibility revolution will come on the heels of the Internet of Things gaining credibility and adoption in healthcare. No, we aren’t there yet, and the generations of consumer goods being sold as personal health monitors are doomed to some serious rejiggering, but the current optimism is not entirely overblown or misplaced.

It all comes down to the push for more data. From EHRs to wearables, everything is quantifying and recording more and more information about our health and our lives. Making this information useful and helpful means getting it in order, and making it accessible to both the people and the machines–deep learning bots and AI systems, I’m looking at you–that can handle it.

Mobile is the future of Communication:

Obviously. We’ve been living there for some time now. But not just in terms of sharing messages, having conversations, or texting. That isn’t the future, that is the present. What the future holds is remote medical consultation, mobile talk therapy, and the seamless exchange, transmission, and revision of clinical records. When we talk about the Internet of Things, we are really just talking about communication: remote sensors gather data, and then communicate it.

Mobile is a major boon to the most vulnerable populations served by community health centers rather than hospitals, and who depend on nurse practitioners for primary care, rather than physicians. Telemedicine is already transforming primary care; this is only going to increase and improve as more providers get on board.

But perhaps most tellingly of all, is the simple fact that EHR use correlates with greater tablet and mobile device use in medical spaces. We may still be chest-deep in troubleshooting the user experience of most EHR systems and getting more sincere physician/nurse/provider buy-in, but mobile is proving indispensable in unlocking the greater potential of EHRs. Mobile technology makes electronic records better.

Mobility is what consumers demand, and what technology has taught a generation or more to expect. This is challenging, certainly, but it is also showing us the way forward, and giving rise to exciting solutions and possibilities. And until I can get a full-body scan, diagnosis, and 3D imaging done via tricorder from the comfort of my own home, I’ll be more than happy to settle for a little more mobility just in how my health data is managed.

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