The Role of mHealth in Teaching Hospitals, Resident Training and Patient Care

Each July, a dramatic staffing transition takes place in hundreds of teaching hospitals across the United States, when new residents begin their training and assume more responsibilities for patients while older, more experienced residents graduate. 

The so-called "July Effect" is a highly controversial study that has long been thought to cause increases in mortality and drops in patient care and satisfaction. It has been scientifically studied and confirmed by numerous sources, but most recently with results reported in 2011 in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. John Young of the University of California, San Francisco.

We see mHealth solutions playing a strong supporting role at medical centers when addressing the challenges and shortcomings faced by students, residents in training and clinical staff, heightened during the academic year-end. As more institutions adopt a mobile strategy and new technologies are leveraged, mHealth will help hedge against the July Effect by enhancing training systems and quality of care. 

Young's report suggests improvements for which mHealth apps are already answering the call, including their ability to provide more tools for learning and patient assessment, enhance supervision and accountability and improve overall communication across hospitals and staff.

We know that smartphones and tablets are increasingly being depended on by medical students and healthcare providers (HCPs), nursing students and nurses across the U.S.  -  which is reinforced through many studies, including a 2011 mHIMSS survey indicating that 53 percent of respondents use apps on mobile devices for education and training purposes. With the saturation of mobile devices in the marketplace and the student demographic having grown up relying on mobile technology, and with the increasingly popular BYOD (bring your own device) trend in the workplace, that percentage will naturally balloon in the near future. 

Using mobile resources in the classroom and to support lab and clinical education helps students become more confident with their decision-making skills as it relates to a course of treatment, and it prepares them to integrate handheld mobile technology into patient care situations after graduation and into their career. Instant, easy access to a vast number of references delivers current best practice information  -  inspiring self-confidence and improving patient care. 

For example, the Regis College Nursing Program in Medford, Mass., incorporated a mobile technology program to its nursing curriculum in 2008. The faculty selected a customized bundle of nursing applications from my company's Skyscape, Inc. offering, which students are required to obtain as part of the program. Adopting the use of these tools and references via mobile technology has been a success, enabling students to develop skills to make them better nurses over time. 

Another example to note: an hours-tracking app recently designed for Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Avoiding trainee overload is a problem in many teaching hospitals in the summer, and accountability is an issue when new supervisors are in place. Maimonides administrators now use automated reminders and send them to residents' mobile devices near the end of their allotted hours for a shift. Residents can also monitor their own hours on their device. 

Moving forward, mobile devices will continue to provide basic time-saving benefits to new residents and other hospital staff. Features such as text messaging and event notification will remain important tools to streamline communication; however, as the mHealth market evolves and new apps come to market, these tools will continue to be improved and built with the intention of increasing the efficiency of tasks, which will make them even more impactful as educational and patient care tools. We're already seeing this happen with mHealth solutions that are synced with Electronic Health Records (EHRs), for instance, and all medical and nursing students will be learning to access and/or filter in patient data at the point of care.

Mobile technology has the ability to play a large role in improving health education and hospital training to support our future physicians and nurses as they strive to provide safe and timely patient-centered care. With integrated tools that improve workflow and communications and provide timely access to the most up-to-date medical references, students and trainees can find and share accurate answers fast, efficiently synthesize critical information and be more confident in managing decisions ranging from dosage to discharge.

Sanjay Pingle is president of Physicians Interactive and has oversight of the combined Pharma and eCommerce business. Prior to joining PI, he was co-founder and executive vice president of Medsite, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical marketing firm named a market leader by Forrester, Jupiter Research and Frost & Sullivan.