MHS takes cautious, yet innovative, approach to mobile health initiatives

Thursday - 12/6/2012, 3:00am EST

Mark Goodge, CTO, MHS

Goodge talks to Federal News Radio about MHS' mobile plans.

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By Mark Goodge
Chief Technology Officer
Military Health System

When you're supporting the health care needs of 9.6 million people who are always on the move, it's important to be flexible.

That's why the Military Health System is putting such an emphasis on pursuing mobile health solutions for our beneficiaries. In general, MHS envisions a variety of mobile applications that address the needs of providers, patients and staff, and we are developing a mobile framework that will provide guidelines and recommendations for pursuing those new technologies.

Photo courtesy of Military Health System.

Our goal is to get the right data to the right person at the right time, to ensure they can either inform a clinical or business decision or use that data to care for a patient.

But, this is easier said than done — even in an age where people are more connected than ever before.

Last year, we had more than 300,000 service members deployed around the world, often to austere and dangerous environments. Our deployed beneficiaries had more than a half-million medical encounters in these theaters and they were treated by more than 17,000 deployed medical personnel under a variety of conditions.

Overall, between deployed care and traditional care at permanent military treatment facilities, we had more than 1 million in-patient admissions and nearly 130 million outpatient visits. We delivered 124,000 babies and filled 142 million prescriptions. For the Department of Defense, the scope of effort is so large and so varied that defining where we need to go and where we want to be means many different things.

Planning today for tomorrow

At MHS, we have to get the policies and frameworks right, and we are working on a lot of these issues right now. These will allow us to guide the enterprise to a better way forward for mobile and mobile technologies. We want to ensure that any personal health information or personally identifiable information that could be presented on these devices and applications is protected. We also want to ensure that we have conformity of standards for mobile devices and mobile selections, and that we offer interoperability across the enterprise.

Mobile technology offers so many benefits across the board — you get faster access to information from any location; wireless infrastructure allows providers to roam hospitals with tablets; hand-held devices can replace volumes of reference materials for doctors and nurses; and health care providers can diagnose injuries and remotely access lab results.

Mobile barcoding is a good example of an area where mobile technology can save lives. By placing barcoded wristbands on patients and similar codes on prescriptions, health care providers can more quickly and easily confirm medications and dosages. This leads to fewer medical errors and improved patient care, and we're moving in that direction at MHS.

We know that our beneficiaries are interested in mobile applications for their smartphones that will help them manage their own care. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a division of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, was created to identify, treat and minimize or eliminate the short- and long-term adverse effects of TBI and mental health conditions associated with military service.

Endless possibilities with apps

Right now, T2 has a suite of 10 applications that are available for free to the public on iTunes and Google Play, dealing with topics such as stress management, mood tracking and PTSD. These applications have been downloaded more than 300,000 times and used more than 1.6 million times. So by turning to a mobile solution, we have been able to offer support to those who need it, while also making it completely anonymous and reducing the stigma attached to some of these conditions.

We want to do more of these types of applications. Whether they are specifically mobile apps or they are web-based and optimized for mobile devices, we know that people want to use them. Soon, we expect to see T2 offer new products for substance abuse, pain management and for family members helping a loved one with PTSD. The possibilities are truly endless.

It's important to remember that we are dealing with very young technologies. Five years ago, they mostly didn't exist. Ten years from now, we'll probably be wearing devices. You're already starting to see some of that trend with stuff embedded into clothing that allows for you to broadcast. In a few years, we could be wearing biosensors that take various readings from the wearer and send that information to another application, so providers and patients can be more proactive in care.

But, for now, the technological challenges are to ensure that we have trusted and secure communications between devices, that we have contingency plans already put in place in case that device falls into the wrong hands, and that we have the proper encryption. For DoD, the biggest issue is security. If people don't see us running out as fast, it's because we have to manage a global environment in a mobile, secure manner. Our beneficiaries are counting on us.

Mark Goodge is the chief technology officer of the Military Health System. This column was written as part of Federal News Radio's special report, Gov 3.0: It's Mobile.

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