Mobile computing and the use of mobile devices promises to enable a wide range of beneficial innovations in health care. The mobile devices most commonly seen in healthcare are tablet PCs and wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants), many equipped with bar code scanners.

The entry level has traditionally been admitting stations and emergency rooms which were the first to use these devices, and now they are making their way to patients’ bedsides. Electronic medication management (i.e. nurses giving medicine to patients) and computerized clinicians’ order entry (i.e. doctors electronically ordering tests and prescriptions) are gaining popularity.

Mobile technology has become mainstream. The advances in microprocessor technology mean that mobile devices now have similar processing power to desktop devices. The advent of multi core processing allows devices to run large applications and still manage battery power effectively. The new form factors allows users to find a solution that is relevant to them, and storage technologies allow for even greater battery life and faster access to information.

Networking advances allow for high bandwidth throughput from wireless networks.

One expert, Australian Dr George Margelis believes that Health care technology managers should be considering mobilising informatics. Dr Margelis who took on the role of Industry Development Manager for Intel’s new Digital Health Group in November 2005 says the uptake of mobile computing in some markets including the Australian healthcare market and European markets has been increasing, particularly over the last few years.

He says “We find most hospitals have some degree of mobility in place, usually in the form of Computers On Wheels, or COWs, and most are now buying notebooks for executive staff rather than desktops. The main limitation has been the networking environment and the lack of mobile applications, which has improved over the last year or so.” He says that ER’s have seen the advantage of mobile solutions and adopted them quickly.

In particular where processes like medication delivery have been implemented there has been strong take up. “Generally these areas need to spend more time with patients and less time at their desks or workstations.”

As far as applications go, with a desktop people captured data, stored it on pieces of paper and then entered it en masse when the got to the PC. With mobile devices they can capture data at the point of care, and enter it in real time. Applications need to be redesigned to better fit in with this workflow.

Dr Margelis believes that all the standard healthcare administration applications can benefit from mobility, “But where it really shines is in clinical applications that are relevant at the point of care. Things like medication administration, access to clinical information systems, access to repositories of knowledge.”

“Also, tools which facilitate real time communications and collaboration between care givers be they in the hospital or in the community.” He believes that there are organization will most likely use these applications and for what purpose?

Nurses have the most to gain as they spend too much of their time away from the patients chasing up information. Mobile technology enables them to access information at the bedside and do their tasks more efficiently.

Doctors also benefit, as again their tasks are more patient focused than administration.

Pharmacists and other health workers have all seen great advantages in having access to information whilst they are mobile.

The biggest effect is that it returns time to the clinicians, which makes their life easier and the tasks more effective.

The benefit of mobile can be exploited at the planning stage in particular for new facilities. “If they are building a new facility they should make sure it is mobile friendly from the outset. Even with older facilities, they should be putting in wireless networking capability wherever they can. The price difference is minimal, and the advantages gained by being to work untethered quickly pays back any extra cost. If they do not use mobile solutions now they should be very proactive in going that way.”

There is no need for proprietary hardware solutions, or limited functionality. Today you can get the full power of a personal computer on a mobile device, running the same applications you run on your desktop PC.