Mobile Technology and the Radiology Practice: Implementation Strategy

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This article is the fourth in a four-part series. To read part one, click here; to read part two, click here; to read part three, click here. Joe DegatiA little less than two years ago, the FDA granted 510(k) approval of the first mobile application for viewing images and making medical diagnoses. This application opened the floodgates on radiology’s market for mobile technology. Joe Degati, CTO for Medical Management Professionals (MMP), says, “This is a very exciting time. We are getting a lot of questions from our clients as to how to proceed with the mobile market. There is a proliferation of new devices coming out, and manufacturers are seeing a need in the medical space and improving their operating systems, as well as giving their devices much higher resolutions.” The use of mobile technologies holds a great deal of potential for radiology practices, Degati says. “Radiologists are enabled to make decisions in a more timely way than ever before: They do not have to be tied to desks or workstations, and they have the flexibility to work whenever and wherever they want, instead of being restricted to traditional hours of operation,” he explains. He adds, however, that an implementation strategy is necessary not only to make the best use of capital, but to avoid running afoul of privacy regulations. “There are key components radiologists need to understand to determine what will be the right solution, given the size and scope of their practices,” he says. “There is not one right answer that will fit for every radiology group.” Privacy and Security Concerns A key issue for radiology groups to be aware of is that not all mobile technologies are created equal. “Radiology practices want to get into the mobile market, but they need to be doing it in an intelligent manner,” Degati says. “Many physicians want to use their own personal devices for business and diagnostic purposes. It amounts to matters of security and practicality. Perhaps they should be creating more segmentation between personal and business use.” Security and hardware capabilities on older personal mobile devices might be a concern for the radiologist. For instance, Degati notes, “You cannot do radiological work on early-generation mobile devices. The later, greater iterations are more geared to diagnostic work because tablet vendors are being pushed by the health-care industry for increased security and screen resolution.” The operating system in use on a device can make a difference as well, Degati says. For instance, Apple’s mobile operating systems have undergone significant upgrades in the security department. Later versions of iOS include enhanced AES encryption, and the 4G cellular connection that it affords is much more conducive to downloading large files with ease. “There are so many factors to consider. For example, using a smart password versus a four-digit number to unlock your device provides an added level of protection, in case the device is lost or stolen,” Degati notes. “The nuances associated with device security are not always easy for physicians to understand; they want a black-and-white answer on security, but the mobile-device industry does not provide clear and concise guidance.” Practices might be advised to take their cues from some hospitals, which acquire the devices themselves, rather than trusting staff members to use their own. “Hospitals that use tablet devices to facilitate workflow in their facilities buy them for specific physician-workflow uses. There is no ambiguity about who controls the device, and if there is a breach, the hospitals have the ability to wipe the compromised device remotely,” Degati says. “Centralized management solves a lot of security concerns. If someone is coming in with his or her own personal device, on the other hand, he or she may not be willing to relinquish that level of control to a central governance body (such as the local IT or compliance organization).” Many mobile applications are now supported by cloud-based solutions for storage. These solutions can provide great value to practices, but selection of them should be approached with caution, Degati says. “There are new vendors popping up every day in the cloud space, so you need to do your due diligence before entrusting your patients’ data to a cloud-based environment,” he notes. Worthwhile Investment With those concerns stipulated, Degati is still bullish about the future of mobile applications and technology, as applied by radiology practices. He has no doubt that doubling down on these technologies—once they are protected by a stringent security policy that is well understood by all parties—will pay dividends for progressive groups. “It is helpful for the radiologists to have something in their hands that they can take with them in their daily routines,” he says. “More helpful, however, is tying that in with referring physicians’ systems—in turn, creating a better and more collaborative relationship with them.” Further, he says, medical students are routinely making the most of mobile applications for educational purposes. Their familiarity and comfort with these applications and associated mobile devices will become a key factor in attracting and retaining top-level talent. “Radiologists coming right out of school or in residency programs have used those devices as a critical component of their teaching and learning, and they are going to want that to continue as they go into practice,” he observes. For these reasons, radiology groups should begin familiarizing themselves now with the security implications of mobile workflow, or they risk losing a valuable competitive edge. “Physicians need to be clear on what is acceptable in the eyes of the DHHS,” Degati says. “They need to understand both the potential of this technology and the implications of not using it correctly. With better screen resolution on tablets, we are going to see a lot more apps geared toward diagnostic capabilities in the future; mobile is here to stay.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.