Doctors Embrace Smartphones, but Struggle to Connect with Colleagues, Study Says

The results of a Spyglass Consulting Group report show that 94 percent of physicians are using smartphones. However, 78 percent of physicians reported they have difficulty with timely smartphone communication with colleagues.

A study by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Spyglass Consulting Group revealed a fragmented smartphone landscape among health care professionals, yet 94 percent of physicians are now using the mobile phones.

Physicians have widely adopted smartphones yet still have difficulty communicating with colleagues and patients in a timely manner, the report reveals.

In the study "Healthcare Without Bounds: Point of Care Communications for Physicians," released on July 23, Spyglass reported a 60 percent increase in doctors' smartphone use from the 59 percent mark it reported in a November 2006 survey.

Of the small sample of 100 physicians participating in the three-month study from March to May 2010, 78 percent reported problems with timely smartphone communication among colleagues.

"For a lot of doctors, they have the smartphone, but it's not integrated with anything," Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass, told eWEEK. "You need to have the right infrastructure in place to integrate with many of the enterprise systems."

According to Malkary, doctors are using multiple devices for various tasks, including personal smartphones, business smartphones, push-to-talk units, pagers and VOIP phones. Still, pagers remain the most reliable, he said, due to poor cellular reception in large hospitals.

"In larger facilities, cellular penetration is poor, and if you're part of an emergency-response team, you need to have reliable delivery," Malkary said. "Paging provides much more reliability in delivery of messages." To bridge the gap, smartphones with push-to-talk capabilities are gaining momentum in health care facilities, he added.

Meanwhile, the Apple iPhone is the preferred mobile product among physicians, despite hospital IT departments not supporting the device and regarding the popular Apple phone as unsecure, Malkary noted.

The study showed a 44 percent preference for the iPhone compared with 25 percent for the BlackBerry. Still, physicians are forced to pay for the iPhone out of pocket because their organizations don't support them.

"They're supporting the BlackBerry only," Malkary said. "They [health care IT departments] don't want to put in the infrastructure to support a wide range of smartphones." Supporting multiple smartphone platforms is a burden with all of the patient information that needs to be secured and protected, he explained.

"Organizations today are not quite ready to provide that level of integration, especially with the iPhone-based platform, which they perceive as unsecure," he said.

Although a director of informatics or a CIO in a health care IT organization may be provided a BlackBerry device, Malkary said that physicians are turning away from the BlackBerry toward the iPhone because of its ease of use and because it is a status symbol.

Spyglass carried out the survey to research the opportunities and challenges of physicians in their communication with other doctors, nurses and patients. The study also explored inefficiencies in workflow and barriers for widespread adoption.

The firm cited the fee-for-service model of payment as an impediment to physicians' ability to communicate via phone or e-mail with colleagues or patients.