Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices are ubiquitous in modern culture in almost every part of the world. It is hard to imagine the days when we could not just reach into our pocket and check email or our calendar, or look up some obscure fact as we banter with friends at a party. Many of us text more often than we actually talk on the phone and most of us know at least one or two people who have all but abandoned their work computer in favor of the mobile version of popular office software.
We were curious about how physicians were using technology during their workday, including their use of both their electronic medical records (EMRs) (which are now used by well over 70% of all office-based physicians) and those seemingly ever-present mobile devices. The answers might surprise you.
How Mobile Are Physicians?
First, we looked at how physicians use their mobile devices at work compared to personal use. Surprisingly (given all the attention placed on mobile), 65% of physicians reported that they never use their smartphone to access information found in their EMR. Considering the importance of the EMR in the modern practice of medicine, this might be surprising.
But EMRs have not, for the most part, tackled the complex challenges of presenting the dense health information from the EMR into a form accessible via a smartphone to review, much less interact with, EMR-based information. Screen size certainly plays a part in this, even with the trend toward phones that barely fit in one’s pocket. Other factors, such as a lack of responsive design in many EMR web interfaces and concerns about data security, also likely play a part.
Conversely, many of our physician survey respondents reported that they do use their smartphones for some type of professional purpose rather frequently. Approximately 55% reported using their smartphone as part of their profession, while only 20% said that they never did so. Clearly, that use was not common within their EMR. With the expectation that practice-focused tools such as reference information and calculators will be located within the EMR itself, we suspect that physicians will increasingly use their mobile devices to look up certain types of information they want to access outside of patient encounters and when they are not directly in front of their EMR. Using professional social media and catching up on professional journals might be two of these uses. However, the phone is not the primary EMR device just yet, and that is not likely to change soon.
Surprisingly though, tablets are not the primary EMR device either, as 61% of physicians reported never using a tablet with their EMR, and only 16% reported doing so on a daily basis. This means that despite the benefits of portability and larger screens, physicians are somewhat split on the professional use of tablets outside the EMR. While 30% reported using a tablet every day for non-EMR professional purposes, 34% said they never did so.
The Devices That Reign Supreme—For Now
So what devices are used the most by physicians as they engage in their profession? For both EMR-centered use and non-EMR professional pursuits, physicians overwhelmingly reported using a laptop or desktop. The majority, at 85%, said they use either a laptop or a desktop on a daily basis to access their EMR, and 76% reported daily use for other, non-EMR professional purposes.
Of our survey respondents who do not currently have mobile capabilities within their EMR, 61% said that they want to be able to access their system using a mobile device, and 41% said that their system does offer a version of the EMR optimized for mobile use. But of those, only 40% were actually using it, while another 24% said they expect to do so within 24 months. This is clearly an evolving landscape, with healthcare providers shaping the trend.