Image Sharing Goes Mobile

Mobile image sharing technology seeks to deliver quality care, drive down costs

Prompted by the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs and various healthcare policies, providers have implemented a variety of electronic and digital technologies in recent years in attempts to improve quality, advance patient outcomes and lower medical costs.

Physician ownership and use of mobile devices is widespread throughout the industry, with 87% utilizing a smartphone or tablet device in their workplace. Recent data shows more than half (52%) of ambulatory practice physicians use a mobile device to access patient records or reference data. As many as 40% of physicians believe using technology to communicate with patients can contribute to improved patient outcomes.

The capabilities that mobile device technology offers healthcare continue to grow and enable physicians to digitally access, consult and diagnose patients from locations outside a hospital or primary care setting and patients to play an active role in managing their health. Research shows that nearly one-quarter of physicians reported communicating with patients through a patient portal, more than one in five monitored patients remotely, and 47% showed patients images or videos on their devices.

Medical image sharing, previously performed solely through film distribution, is now capable of occurring via mobile devices. Such services allow healthcare professionals to send and access medical images and reports instantly anytime and anywhere Internet is available.

Access Advantages

“One of the challenges health systems face is patient mobility,” Karen Holzberger, general manager of diagnostic solutions for Nuance Healthcare, a provider of clinical documentation solutions, explained to Health System Management (HSM). “Patients don’t stay within the walls of the health system, so their images can’t either.”

Though the care pathway of a patient can be complicated in nature, moving from primary care to tertiary care to specialized care, access to images shouldn’t be, Holzberger contended. Mobile sharing of radiology reports and images such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, EKGs and any other type of image provides patients and care teams faster access, “as there are no geographical or organizational boundaries,” said Holzberger. With greater accessibility comes improved care coordination, Holzberger noted, as instant access saves time and allows physicians to focus on their patients: “Faster access allows the care team to provide quality-driven healthcare decisions for that patient.”

“Mobile image sharing more simply puts all the pieces together,” Eric Rice, chief technology officer of Mach7 Technologies, a provider of enterprise imaging solutions, told HSM. “It enables the patient record to be more simply transferred, and supports a complete care record and coordination of care — all essential factors of enhancing the patient experience. It reduces human capital costs, accelerates care delivery and improves patient outcomes.”

Having access while moving in and outside the walls of the health system reduces the need for duplication of images, according to Holzberger. About 20% of hospital radiology tests are duplicates, representing nearly $10 billion a year in wasted resources.

By providing greater accessibility to providers and patients, mobile image sharing is capable of lowering “cost through the elimination of CDs and DVDs. Beyond the resource time and management of burning CDs and trying to read them, consider the cost of purchasing, housing and transporting CDs as well,” Rice noted.

In regards to patient safety, mobile image sharing also has the possibility of eliminating unnecessary repeat exams and exposure to radiation, ensuring that patients get the right service the first time, thereby improving quality.

Worldwide Sharing

While image sharing via mobile devices can support image management and access across the continuum of care, such a service also can be used for teaching and learning purposes. Figure 1, a new mobile imaging sharing app dubbed the “Instagram for Doctors,” allows users across the healthcare continuum to upload anonymous photos to a photo sharing platform in an effort to seek and gain advice and insight.

Every day, tens of thousands of physicians, nurses, medical students and other healthcare professionals of various types open up the app, scrolling through photos, X-rays, scans and ECG readings of medical abnormalities and viewing between 3-4 million cases, according to Sharon Vorona, MD, medical director, Figure 1. The success of the app, which has more than a million users in 190 countries — including well-known institutions such as Mount Sinai Hospital and even physicians working in remote locations including the Peruvian rainforest and Syrian refugee camps — reflects the trend of mobile sharing growing from social networks such as Facebook and Instagram to healthcare, Vorona shared with HSM.

Named for the image labels in medical textbooks, the start-up was co-founded by Joshua Landy, a practicing critical care physician in Toronto who noticed image sharing of patient ailments via smartphone for feedback and advice was common among his colleagues. After performing research on how physicians use their phones as a visiting scholar at Stanford University, Landy came up with the concept of creating an image sharing network in which patient privacy is the No. 1 priority.

“Privacy was really built into the design of Figure 1,” Vorona explained. “The co-founders consulted healthcare attorneys on regulations. Figure 1 actually does not contain any patient health information; every image and caption is stripped of identification by the person sharing it. Users have a number of tools available to them, including face-blocking, cropping and drawing tools. Once uploaded, the image is placed in a queue so a team of moderators can check the images and approve or deny. There is also a consent form created by healthcare attorneys that patients can sign within the app.”

Because the images are edited to not contain any identification information, patients are happy to share their information in order to teach others about their unique case and/or receive feedback that would better their quality of care, according to Vorona.

Mitigate Risks

While mobile device technology is capable of offering convenience and immediate access to physicians and patients, users must remain cognizant of potential security issues involving patient health information.

“Security can be a risk, but with the property technology and security controls in place, this can be managed,” Rice told HSM. “The tech can be engineered to mitigate these risks.”

“As health practices change with the movement of health information, the benefits of mobile image sharing are going to outweigh the risks,” Holzberger noted.

To help protect and secure patient health information when using mobile devices, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following tips:

  1. Use a password or other user authentication.
  2. Install and enable encryption.
  3. Install and activate remote wiping and/or remote disabling.
  4. Disable and do not install or use file sharing applications.
  5. Install and enable a firewall.
  6. Install and enable security software.
  7. Keep your security software up to date.
  8. Research mobile applications before downloading.
  9. Maintain physical control.
  10. Use adequate security to send or receive health information over public Wi-Fi networks.
  11. Delete all sorted health information before discarding or reusing the mobile device.

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