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Why Your Greatest Clinical Tool May Be in Your Pocket

Written by Azeen Sadeghian, MD, FAAD

Technological advances have ushered us into a new era of clinical support tools. Our readily available smartphones have evolved to serve as multi-functioning devices and tools, providing clinical resources to us more quickly than we had access to in the past. Not only that, but it also serves as a way to document or photograph in the electronic medical record (EMR), communicate with patients and other providers, and quickly reference a workup or medication dosages. 

Although at times they can be obtrusive and we must take additional measures to make them secure and compliant, the opportunities given to us by our mobile devices outweigh its downfalls, proving to be a strong asset in any clinician’s toolkit. Here’s why:

It is objective.

  • Despite our best efforts to be objective physicians, we are influenced by various factors that can impact our diagnostic abilities. Our training helps us recognize this, but it’s beneficial to use objective measures and tools in patient care. It’s also helpful to have resources that keep our decision-making abilities more objective. The practice of gathering symptoms, data, and then building a differential diagnosis helps us to ensure a better diagnosis. Reference tools such as VisualDx, and other clinical decision support systems, can help us accomplish objectivity. 

It tells a story in an instant.

  • The cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a cliche for a reason: because it's true. In most instances, an image is able to relay more information than text can, such as comparing temporally related radiographs or clinical images. Smartphone images can provide an objective comparison between two snapshots in time, particularly when multiple clinicians are involved in the same case. And many of these images are able to be securely saved into the patient medical record or compliantly shared with another physician.

It saves time.

  • There are countless time-saving features on mobile devices if you choose to use them. From visualizing your workflow, directly uploading photo images into the EMR, dictating email responses, to communicating with colleagues; you can make your mobile device serve your needs. 

  • For many practitioners, finding a workstation and then logging into the system can take more time out of their workflow than quickly referencing information from their cell phones. 

  • A counter-point is that mobile devices can waste time; however, personal distractions can be minimized with various features such as Do Not Disturb mode during sleep hours (which can be altered to allow calls but not text messages), blocking unnecessary app notifications, and deleting social media shortcuts. 

It is direct.

  • Communicating directly with another provider will often yield more information than relying solely on the inconsistent transmission of EMR documentation. In the era of note bloat due to EMR, it can be difficult to communicate through transmission of a medical record between clinical settings. With some medical records easily exceeding more than 100 pages, pertinent information can be obscured by pages of auto-generated data sets. Although it is important to read through documentation, you can take that extra safety measure by reviewing some cases via direct communication when possible, thus reducing your chances of missing important information due to background clutter. I’ve had great success with sharing my mobile number with other providers and they share theirs with me. Through messages and calls, we can ensure we aren’t missing important faxes or lab results.

It serves as a backup.

  • Internet access is not always guaranteed in a clinic or hospital. Many of us have experienced a frustrating internet outage. Of course lack of internet means lack of access to documents in EMR. That’s where the mobile hotspot feature of a cell phone comes in handy. By connecting a compliant device to a secure mobile hotspot, you can access the records you need even when the internet is down.

  • Many of us have used the flashlight app as a backup pen light, used a mobile camera to track skin changes, or shared our phone number with patients so they can reach us if they can’t get through the clinic, etc. Our mobile devices can even serve as a backup music source to soothe anxious patients during bedside procedures. The possibilities are endless.

  • Lastly, our mobile devices can serve as a notification system by setting alarms or alerts to check certain important labs or follow-up items.

It provides clinical decision support.

  • Medical application resources are great for the clinician. You can check drug prices, calculate medication dosages, look up treatment options, or build a differential all while on the go.

  • VisualDx serves as the ultimate pocket reference—you’re able to expand your differential, quickly compare and contrast all your differential diagnoses, or rapidly look at therapeutic options and dosages. It also allows you to view or share information directly with the patient. 

There are many other useful features mobile devices offer us in the clinical setting—this list barely scratches the surface. While technological advances do bring along some drawbacks, we believe there is much more to be gained by embracing our mobile phones as clinical tools.


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About VisualDx

VisualDx is an award-winning diagnostic clinical decision support system that has become the standard electronic resource at more than half of U.S. medical schools and more than 1,500 hospitals and institutions nationwide.  VisualDx combines clinical search with the world's best medical image library, plus medical knowledge from experts to help with diagnosis, treatment, self-education, and patient communication. Expanding to provide diagnostic decision support across General Medicine, the new VisualDx brings increased speed and accuracy to the art of diagnosis. Learn more at www.visualdx.com.

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