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The future of medical informatics

I’ve been having ongoing discussions with the Department Administrator, the Department Chair and the Director of the Clinical Division about the future direction of IT in our Department (Family Medicine). We have been testing out the iPad as a possible alternative to the desktop and moving everything to the cloud. All the research shows that we as a whole are headed in that direction. A Pew Research report shows that by 2020 most of us will be using applications and storage in the cloud. The newer offerings by Linux, Peppermint and the soon-to-be-released Chrome OS, takes advantage of this by providing a light, fast OS that doesn’t have apps locally but just has clients for applications in the cloud.

Medical College of Georgia iPhone appsWe could have people write apps for our mission critical programs. A number of academic institutions are now using institution specific apps. An example, MIT uses an iPod touch/iPhone app for helping incoming freshmen to make their way around campus as well as keep them up-to-date withpertinent MIT news.

Some medical schools have developed medical college specific applications, such as MCG (Medical College of Georgia). Their apps provide a wide range of services, from a directory of faculty, to medical applications.

So since it looks inevitable that we will be freed from these large desktop devices and be moved into mobile computing, what are some of the issues we need to concern ourselves with?

  1. Security
  2. Loss prevention
  3. Availability
  4. Battery/Energy source

Security is by far the biggest concern for us, given our profession. We need to ensure that the data in the cloud is accessible by the people who are authorized to access it. While HIPAA allows administrators to simply make an attempt to provide industry best-practices standards for data protection to prevent being in violation of the law, in practice, best practices may not be enough. One data breach of confidential medical information is  all it would take.

Loss prevention goes without saying and goes hand in had with security. Users need to make sure that the device has a security feature enabled (1password or other type of app based security system) and need to be cognizant of where they place devices. Loss is inevitable at some point but there are measures (such as remote wipe) that would need to be standard.

All mobile devices need to be connected in order to access the cloud and in turn the data. Unless city wide wireless becomes the defacto standard, or we outfit all mobile devices with 3G or 4G data systems, we will still be tied to physical locations (coffee shops, libraries, internet cafes, etc.).

Finally, all these devices work on batteries. It is hard, as anyone who’s forgotten a power cord can attest, your device usability life timer starts ticking as soon as the device is pulled out of the power source. these devices can be used for multiple hours, depending on type of use; however, at some point, unlike an-always-plugeed-in desktop, you will need to recharge it.

Until these issues have been addressed effectively, we will still be a predominantly PC (desktop or laptop) based industry. When they have been solved, we will be one of the greatest beneficiaries.

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