App Challenge in sync with physician health IT needs

Doctors are learning that new technology can serve them, not the other way around.

Posted May 16, 2011.

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For years, many advocates of information technology viewed physicians as computer-phobic Luddites, slow to adopt and benefit from health IT. As it turned out, many doctors are enthusiastic users of technology.

The key is for them to find something that serves their needs, rather than being forced to bend to the needs of the technology or the institution behind it.

That is evidenced by how physicians are rapidly adopting mobile technology, particularly smartphones and tablet computers that can be easily carried from room to hospital to wherever else they go.

About 27% of 5,490 physicians surveyed for a report by market research firm Knowledge Networks said they own tablet computers such as Apple's iPad. That rate is five times greater than the adoption rate of the general U.S. population.

Meanwhile, the survey found that 64% of physicians owned smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone, Research in Motion's BlackBerry or various models using Google's Android operating system.

That would put overall physician usage above even the most passionate smartphone age group -- 18 to 34 -- half of whom own such a device.

With those devices comes access to apps, which can place useful programs at the touch of a finger. Though there are many health apps, relatively few are geared toward doctors. The American Medical Association is working to change that.

In the spirit of meeting the needs of the doctor and not the device, the AMA has announced its first App Challenge.

Any U.S. physician, medical resident or medical student is eligible to submit to the AMA any idea for a physician-focused app. The submitter doesn't have to know how to design it; the strength is in the idea. (It's common in app development for one person to articulate a concept, then search for a technology partner for the design work.)

The two grand prize winners (one a physician, the other a resident or a student), whose apps will be chosen by the AMA for development, will each receive a $1,000 American Express gift card, a $1,500 Apple store gift card and a round trip for two to New Orleans for the AMA House of Delegates Interim Meeting in November. Winning entries will be presented there.

Physicians are responding to the challenge. In the first month it was open, more than 100 students, residents and physicians had submitted good, workable ideas. Entries may be submitted on the Web through June 30 www.amaidealab.org.

Physicians don't have to wait for the challenge to bear fruit if they want to find a doctor-friendly app from the AMA. The App Challenge coincided with the launch of the AMA's first app -- a free CPT Evaluation and Management Quick Reference, available at Apple's iTunes store. The app has about 130 CPT billing codes used for E&M visits.

The AMA plans to launch at least two more apps in 2011, including one that would allow physicians easily to file and keep track of continuing medical education credits. For both the CPT and CME apps, the free version will be followed by a more advanced version available for a fee, with a discount for AMA members.

CPT and CME are well-established physician facts of life that are app naturals. The App Challenge opens the door to something new or to something familiar treated in a fresh way. Both approaches reflect a shared and essential understanding about doctors and technology. What's important is that devices they carry and health IT serve physicians, not the other way around.

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External links

AMA App Challenge Rules and Entry (link)

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