Using Technology with Caution


Healthcare looks very different than it did 25 years ago. Physicians are using tablets, smartphones, interactive apps, and other electronic means to provide efficient healthcare to patients.

According to several sources, between 75 and 85 percent of physicians use a smartphone or tablet for professional purposes.1Uses include email, research, EMR entry, x-ray review, telehealth, and more. While electronic devices have many benefits, their use presents new risks.

Chief among these risk exposures is the increased possibility of a HIPAA violation. While a HIPAA violation is not the same as a malpractice claim, it can still negatively impact you and your practice, staff, and patients.

HIPAA concerns arise in several areas of electronic device use. Losing a device may allow an individual access to protected health information (PHI) stored on the device. If the device is not properly encrypted or secured, an individual may access PHI through apps, email, or hacking into a system using the device’s connectivity.

Another risk arising from mobile electronic devices involves app usage. There are approximately 26,000 healthcare apps available, and 7,400 of those apps are marketed to physicians.2 Somewhat surprisingly, the FDA has only approved 10 healthcare apps as of July 26, 2016.3

One physician wrote about a blood pressure app he was using that gave inaccurate readings. When he contacted the app’s developer, he was told the app was in the “beta-testing stage” and intended for “entertainment purposes only.” Despite this information, the developer was selling the app to end-users—without any disclaimers or mention of its test status.4

Healthcare providers need to be vigilant when deciding whether to use certain apps. Research the app’s usage and do preliminary testing to ensure its accuracy. Use the app, then verify the results with traditional testing until the physician is satisfied the app’s results are accurate. Another suggestion is to contact the app’s developer and request testing/clinical trial results on its accuracy.

Use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc., in healthcare becomes more main stream every day. Be sure you are proactive in mitigating the accompanying risks. You may need to contact an IT security specialist to help ensure you are managing potential risks as effectively as possible.

-Jeremy Wale is a licensed attorney in Michigan where he works as a Risk Resource Advisor for ProAssurance.