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Mobile Technology in Healthcare – Musings of an Information Specialist

6 Aug, 15 | by BMJ

iPad in medical library- landscapeBy Olwen Beaven

The advance of mobile technology has been amazing, opening up a whole world of resources to people wherever they are, enabling someone to create their own digital material and share their thoughts, ideas and images, whilst on the go. The use of the internet and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, seems to dominate our everyday lives, so it is no surprise that the use of mobile phones and tablets would make their presence felt in the healthcare workplace.
Giving clinicians flexibility in how they choose to access material and getting high quality evidence as close to the point of care as possible, are highly desirable outcomes. Hence the interest at the BMJ in developing mobile friendly platforms for Clinical Evidence, Best Practice, and other journal and learning related products. The ability of healthcare professionals to quickly check a drug dose, display a patient leaflet, or consult a local guideline, are all things that could enhance and assist in patient care.

Having an array of resources at your finger-tips, custom organised on your device, available to consult whenever you need it – must surely be ideal for the busy clinician – so how are healthcare professionals using these portable treasure troves? Unsurprisingly, research is being undertaken addressing this and related questions, with use amongst (generally younger) student populations, to the fore. Consequently, the use of mobile devices for clinical training and education, and their role in supporting learning seems to be the current major focus.

So what about the established healthcare professional, are we going to see them consulting phones and tablets whilst treating patients more often? With the potential for immediate sending and sharing (remembering that these devices are also cameras, video and sound recorders) how will privacy, confidentiality and data protection be managed? Will it be harder to observe copyright regulations and maintain the security and integrity of data?  Will employers be expected to provide mobile devices for all clinical staff to ensure universal and standard access to designated tools? Might mobile devices become an annoyance and distraction and so hinder clinical practice? What about WiFi connections and connectivity support across institutions? And, where does this leave the physical library and information support staff?

On this last question, I can see there will still be a valuable and major contribution to be played by the healthcare librarian and associated information professionals in clinical (and evidence-based) practice. As we move to electronic resources that can be accessed at all times, the problem of information overload is likely to get worse rather than better. The maintenance of appropriate licensing of resources, ensuring there is secure and appropriate access and that copyright and other regulations are upheld, are all part of the library/information role. Assistance in working out what is helpful for clinical practice, and support to know how, why, and when, to use the tools that are available, will be increasingly essential. Liaison with technology departments on provision of mobile coverage and with knowledge management teams on data protection and information assurance in this developing environment will all be required.

Whilst mobile technology provides great opportunities to enhance timely access to information, the basic problem of ensuring that it is accurate, and the most appropriate evidence to be used, remains. However information may be designed, packaged, presented or distributed, whilst this fundamental issue persists, I am hopeful there will be a role for the healthcare information professional to support and assist their clinical colleagues.

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