AHRQ: Hospitals need policies to mitigate risks with mobile devices

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While IT systems have the potential to enhance patient safety, improve quality of care and reduce healthcare costs, John Halamka, MD, MS, CIO of Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, believes that they also introduce new opportunities for error that need to be addressed before health IT can achieve maximum effectiveness.

Halamka suggested that mobile devices are advantageous because they bring computerized order entry closer to the point-of-care, they enable easy access to clinical data and they’re nearly always with their physician owners, but he wrote that there are risks and negative consequences to mobile device use in healthcare settings.

In a December commentary published on the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) website, Halamka considered a scenario in which a resident entering an order on her smartphone diverts his or her attention to a personal text message and forgets to complete the order, which results in a medication error that requires the patient to have surgery.

Citing an August report published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (J Med Internet Res 2011;13:e59), Halamka wrote, “Such interruptions are a significant potential danger. One study noted 4.6 average interruptions per hour for residents when considering calls, emails and face-to-face communications.

“At present, many hospitals allow clinicians to bring their own mobile devices to work, which creates a risk of mixing insecure personal applications with critical patient care applications,” he continued.

Halamka suggested that hospitals develop policies, such as only allowing employer provisioned devices to be used in the workplace, to mitigate the risks associated with health IT systems.

“The workflow in hospitals is changing as both systems and providers employ new technologies from a large robust full-scale EHR to a single handheld device,” he wrote.

“Mobile devices are becoming an increasingly important part of the clinical workday,” Halamka continued. “Leveraging benefits while applying technology and policy risk mitigations will result in their optimal use.”

Read Halamka’s commentary in its entirety here.