Prescription for Change

Why smartphones are taking over the world—and health care

by Chloe Lewis

As health systems continue to grow, and their physician employment relationships and care delivery models continue to diversify, executives and physician leaders are tasked with making sure everyone in the enterprise executes shared goals in a coordinated fashion. But "singing from the same song sheet" is no small task.

An organization’s ability to create, cultivate, and communicate a unified vision and mission is under threat. Physicians are increasingly geographically dispersed and the breadth and diversity of new work models is only increasing. Operationally, it is becoming more difficult to achieve in-sync system-wide strategic objectives.

Communication impacts physician engagement—and in turn, quality

The primary barrier to achieving these aims is effective communication among providers—now mission-critical. Can schedulers reach cohorts of physicians quickly? Can an emergency department communicate a drug shortage across a hospital in a single push notification? Unfortunately, traditional communication channels—phone calls, faxing, overhead paging, emails or texts—are falling short, with provider teams operating in a harried state of phone tag, out-of-office messages, and unread texts.

Beyond the workflow and care delivery implications, which are significant, poor communication affects physician engagement. While the benefits of this hard-won measure are numerous—reduced burnout, higher productivity, and improved patient satisfaction—a positive correlation to reduced medical errors stands out as the golden carrot. Ultimately, improved communication, and in turn engagement, leads to improved clinical quality.

If the need for improved communication across the health system is so dire, why can’t we get there? Until recently, we haven’t had the right tools. Technological advances in health care have been built around connecting health care workers to desktop-centered IT applications and systems, especially EHRs, but have not advanced to meet health care workers where they are—on the move. To seamlessly integrate with the clinician workflow, workers need solutions that are at their fingertips, literally—like a mobile phone.

Why mobile platforms are at the center of health care innovation

Over the next decade, we can expect to see mobile platforms at the center of health care innovation. Here’s why:

1. "The smartphone is the new sun," according to tech blogger Benedict Evans. Annual mobile phone sales, at 2 billion, dwarf PC sales, which come in at just under 300 million. Half of mobile phone sales are smartphones, and this number is expected to grow to 100% over the next few years. This makes the smartphone tech’s first universal product, and influences every part of the value chain, including software development, which will increasingly happen at the level of the smartphone, not the desktop. Innovation is now smartphone centric.

This is trickling into health care, where more than 80% of physicians own a smartphone and 72% of physicians use their smartphone to access drug information—confirming on-the-job use. Furthermore, of a record $429 million in venture capital funding for health care information technology startups in the first quarter of 2015, $275 million went to “digital technologies applied to health care,” accounting for 56% growth in the sector from the previous year. The demand and opportunity for mobile innovation is clear and the market is responding.

2. Smartphones will change the way we execute our work. Compared to a computer, the smartphone’s interface seems limited. When thought of outside of the bounds of traditional computing, however, the nature of the interface, demanding brevity and simplicity, attuned to motion, touch, and sound, affords the possibility of disruptive solutions to long entrenched communication problems.

The smartphone stands to become the connective tissue of any health system, serving as a platform to execute or triage tasks in real time, on the basis of need. Email, voicemail, facsimile, will be sinkholes of information no more, as they can be reserved for discrete use cases not met by the smartphone’s interface.

Most compelling is the possibility for new modalities. The ability for targeted, real-time communication across geographies—stemming referrals to a facility with a broken MRI machine, data analytics providing insight on when content is absorbed, by whom, where, what is sent, and with what frequency—can give executive and physician leadership a pulse on often dispersed physician constituencies, and provide physicians with greater autonomy and mobility.

3. Smartphones will change how we relate to one another and work together. It turns out that when we communicate in short form messages, in text messages and on twitter, the value of the communication is not limited to the content of the message itself. The frequency of the messaging and developed awareness of the sender is as important.

User experience researchers have dubbed this phenomenon "social proprioception." Over time, a group of communicators develops an awareness of its collective self and the behaviors of its component parts, allowing for otherwise unlikely feats of coordination.

At the same time, there is speculation and preliminary research that suggests smartphone communication may allow an individual to adapt his or her Dunbar Circles, or the number of people to whom he or she naturally maintains a social relationship, beyond his or her geographic footprint. In other words, smartphone communication has the ability to facilitate teamwork in a way not yet accomplished by other technology. I can’t think of an environment where this could be more impactful than in health care, where coordination is the lynchpin of the performance of the care team.

Seeing the enormous opportunity for a mobile communications solution to tackle one of health care’s biggest challenges, the Advisory Board is investing in and offering a solution, Crimson Connect. To learn more please reach out to Corinne Jurgensen,


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