October 2, 2013

If it's been awhile since you last visited your health care provider, you may be surprised at the role technology plays during your next appointment. In recent years, advances in health information technology (IT) have changed the way we manage health and wellness.

Health IT involves electronic health records (EHRs), mobile medical apps, personal wellness devices, and other innovations—as well as the safety, security, and privacy measures they depend on. Electronic health records allow your physician to remotely access your medical chart, prescribe medications, monitor for possible drug interactions, and more. Mobile medical apps (applications) are designed to help you manage your health using your smartphone, tablet, and other electronic devices.

Benefits of Health IT

Health IT helps improve communication by allowing patients, providers, health care team members, insurance companies, etc. to share medical information securely and electronically.

Benefits of electronic health records include the following:

  • Less paperwork (fewer forms to complete)
  • An entire health care team can share up-to-date medical information (including test results) quickly, if necessary
  • Coordinated medical care and patient safety (e.g., multiple providers can monitor patient care, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Patients can have direct access to their health records

Mobile Medical Apps

To help ensure patient safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates some mobile medical apps—including those that could be harmful if they didn't function properly. According to the FDA, its focus is:

  1. Software and devices that transform mobile devices (e.g., smartphone, tablet) into a type of medical device that is regulated by the Agency and
  2. Software and devices that can be used as an accessory for an FDA-regulated device.

As of September 2013, the FDA has cleared nearly 100 mobile medical apps, including apps that:

  • Access vital signs
  • Help people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar
  • Measure blood pressure
  • Allow doctors to read x-rays and preform ultrasounds and electrocardiograms

An example of a medical mobile app that is not the focus of FDA regulation is an app that makes diet or exercise recommendations to people interested in making healthier lifestyle choices. According to the FDA, this type of app carries little risk. Regulation also does not include the sale or use of smartphones and tablets or the distribution of mobile apps.

Future of Health IT

Health information technology is expected to grow—as much as 25 percent per year—and the number of mobile medical apps is expected to increase substantially in the years ahead. Talk to your health care provider(s) about all decisions related to your health and wellness—including those that involve using mobile apps.

Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and HealthIT.gov

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 02 Oct 2013

Last Modified: 24 Oct 2013