Digital Health – The App Argument

Written by on December 23, 2012 in Career - No comments | Print this page


female-nurseTraditionally, the use of phones in the workplace has been stigmatized as something that takes away from employee hours and productivity.  With the emergence of new applications and online databases, perhaps it is time to reevaluate this mode of thinking and really get down to what this method of obtaining and utilizing information can do for today’s healthcare field.

To understand where this stigma started you have to look at where it all began.  With its launch in early July of 2008, the concept of the app and app store is still a relatively new format.  Before apps, we had texting and before texting we had that primordial Nokia, brick-of-a-phone that played jarring MIDI music and boasted “Snake” as its main entertainment source.

Using a phone in the workplace during these nascent years of cellular technology was almost always associated with engaging in an activity that was outside the realm of the workplace.  However, since this time technology has clearly (and quite rapidly) advanced.  In 2008, Apple recorded some 500 apps available for download on their app store.  In their statistics released just this year that number has been multiplied by 1,400 with over 700,000 apps currently available.  So what does this mean for those in the medical field? Let’s take a look.

With this many apps available for this specific niche of employment someone must be using them right? Well, that’s exactly what the people over at Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (publisher of countless journals, medical texts and resources in the world of healthcare) were thinking when they decided to poll some 3,900 nurses across the country.  In their findings, they discovered that out of their test pool, 71% (2,769) of the polled nurses were already using their iPhones or smartphones to some degree for work-related purposes.

With this current volume of use, it would be naïve to be writing the trend off as unproductive.  Noticing the growing use, some hospitals have begun to adapt and change their policies on employees utilizing their phones for work-related duties such as taking photos of wounds, communication between one another and pill identification.  Some even supplying smartphones for this very purpose.  However, this change in acceptance has definitely begun to polarize the medical community.

Arguments in support of the movement have a lot on their side.  Anyone can attest to how much growth we have seen in the last ten years in terms of advancement in medicine.  With each step of this growth comes a slew of information that needs to be memorized and understood.  As the human mind can only process and store so much, the logistics of being able to recall a given piece of information becomes increasingly difficult.

This is where the use of the medical app comes in.  With applications acting as the new (and often times more reliable) font of knowledge, the need to have employees be trained in these areas becomes less pressing.  This means time and money saved as well as a more accurate response to a situation.  A recent New York Times article stated,

“The most profound recent change is a move away from the profession’s dependence on committing vast amounts of information to memory. It is not that nurses need to know less, educators say, but that the amount of essential data has exploded.”

-The New York Times, “A Nurse Need Never Forget”

This being said, the use of applications in a hospital environment does not come without its critics.  Making this information available via smartphone has the potential to take out a huge piece of the educational requirements needed to hold certification in many areas of the medical field.

Being able to call up pill names and side-effects, proper patient procedure and codes has the potential to dumb down the profession.  Nothing could be worse than being told to wait a moment and watching as your nurse reaches into her pocket to quickly look up if you can eat food with that pill you’re about to put in your mouth.

So where, if any, is there a middle ground?  It seems like the finer points are still being worked out.  Just recently, the Royal College of Nursing stated their firm stance against the movement citing patient confidentiality and the burden of supplying your own device as the top reasons.

“There is a concern that pressure would be put on nurses to use their own phone, although we aren’t saying that may be a conscious decision by employers,” she said. “If they need to regularly use their phones the employer should provide them.”

-Allison Wallace, e-Health Advisor for the RCN

One thing is for certain, the issue is certainly not going away.  With more and more people using smartphones and these apps every day, the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Wallace goes on to say,

This is the new hot issue now… this is a generation that immediately hits that send button.”

What about you, where do you stand?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

This is a guest post.  Kathryn Norcutt has been an active member of the health care community for over 20 years. During her time as a nurse, she has helped people from all walks of life and ages. Now, Kathryn leads a much less hectic life and devotes most of her free time to writing for RN Network, a site specializing in long term nursing jobs.

Image courtesy of photostock /


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