End up as a patient at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, and you will most likely see your doctor staring and tapping at her smartphone or tablet at some point during your appointment. She’s not playing Candy Crush Saga. (Well, probably not, anyway.) Most likely, she is using one of the mobile medical apps that doctors are increasingly relying upon to do their jobs.
Dr. Simran Sedani, chief medical information officer for UMCCP, says mobile devices are replacing a whole host of formerly common equipment, from cart computers to palmtops to paper books. Using their smartphones, physicians can now prescribe medications with precision doses and check for harmful drug interactions. Apps can even help them make clinical decisions, such as evaluating a stroke victim, on the spot.
“Mobile apps increase our efficiency in making these decisions,” Sedani said.
One of the most common apps, Epocrates, is essentially a pharmacy database. A doctor can punch in a patient’s entire list of medications and the program will instantly call up any potential adverse reactions or contraindications that might exist. Sedani said another popular app at UMCCP is a program that replaces a book on prescribing antibiotics.
Doctors have had many of these capabilities for years — Sedani first used Epocrates as a resident in 2002 — but they were confined to either bulky computers or specialized personal data assistants that had limited capabilities. Some doctors were using remote-access programs to use their desktop PCs. But for many doctors, looking something up meant returning to their office. With the mobile devices, Sedani said, doctors can make decisions on the spot.
Sedani was raised in the Philippines, where her father was a businessman and her mother was a homemaker. She graduated from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and joined Princeton Healthcare System in 2009. By the time the new hospital opened up in 2012, mobile apps were revolutionizing medical IT.
One of the more significant uses of mobile computing is medical records access. Princeton Healthcare embraced electronic medical records long ago. As early as 2010, Sedani says, a handful of physicians were using their iPhones instead of full-size computers to look at medical records. Now, she says, well over half the doctors at the hospital use medical records on a phone or tablet.
When doctors can look at records themselves on the spot, it eliminates a potential source of errors. Rather than asking a nurse what a patient’s temperature is, and possibly mishearing it, a doctor can look directly at the record. They can also use their phones to order diagnostic tests and prescribe medicine without scrawling on a piece of paper or telling someone else, again reducing the potential for error.
Apps also allow doctors to check on the conditions of multiple patients and prioritize which ones to see before actually going and visiting them. The smartphones allow doctors to receive information faster and react to that information faster.
“Patient care is no longer suspended until later,” Sedani says. “If there is a change in the patient’s condition, I can address it immediately. I almost cannot remember how we did it when we didn’t have real-time access.”
Software makers know there is a big market for medical apps, and they have just begun to explore the possibilities of making programs that are useful for doctors. Rich Napoli, CEO of the American branch of software developer Object Frontier, located in Newtown, Pennsylvania, participated just last week in a New Jersey Technology Council showcase of mobile computing apps. The medical category was featured prominently in the expo.
To Napoli, it’s a natural development. He says Steve Jobs had envisioned the iPad as an important tool for doctors when it was released in 2010.
“If you think about it, doctors and nurses are probably some of the most mobile professionals you have,” Napoli says. “They’re making house calls, they’re doing their rounds or whatever, and they almost by definition are never at their desks. Imagine the doctor being able to walk into a patient’s room and as soon as they walk in, their iPad pops up with that patient’s information. Instead of having a clipboard hanging at the edge of the bed, the nurse can instantly see what a person’s current vitals are and what medications they’ve been prescribed. They could make a diagnosis with a single glance.”
You could imagine that, or you could go to a hospital and see it firsthand. Part of what is driving the move towards mobile medical computing is the Affordable Healthcare Act. A little discussed provision of the “Obamacare” law mandates that healthcare professionals who meet certain requirements in the field of electronic medical records can receive up to $44,000 in incentives from the government — not a bad deal for something that makes sense anyway.
Napoli got to see his industry’s contribution to medicine firsthand recently, when he took his wife to a hospital. “The system they have there is incredible,” he says. “The doctor hits a button and sends prescriptions right to the pharmacy. It’s a marvelous tool.”
Another local company making inroads in the medical IT sector is PeriGen, an Alexander Road business specializing in prenatal monitoring, was recently awarded a contract by the Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, Iowa.
The center will use the company’s PeriCALM system combined with its own electronic health records to give doctors realtime information and analysis to help monitor women in labor.
In March PeriGen announced it had received $6.4 million in financing from private investors to develop and market its products, and reached a distribution agreement with Helix Health Solutions of Dubai to sell its products overseas.
PeriGen, 700 Alexander Park, Suite 100, Princeton 08540; 609-228-7898; fax, 609-228-8224. Matthew Sappern, CEO. www.perigen.com.