Medical Device Daily National Editor

At the opening of Stephen King's novel, Cell, any of its characters that happen to be talking on a cell phone suddenly start doing bad things – very bad things (we'll spare you King's usual panoply of gory detail here).

But even without King's macabre imaginings, there's that cell phone ringer that goes off in the middle of the movie theater (why always in the middle of the movie?), and even an increasing number of injury reports from text messager/impediment time/space intersections, the result of over-absorption on the clever message being sent.

But Peter Waegemann, CEO of the Medical Records Institute (Boston), has another vision of this thoroughly modern gadgetry.

It inevitably will become, he told Medical Device Daily, a central player in healthcare information technology (IT), with cell phones being used as one of the key channels into development of the electronic medical record (EMR) environment.

The institute has just reported the launch of a new organization, the Center for Cell Phone Applications in Healthcare (C-PAHC), to push the greater use of cell phones in the healthcare arena and to provide information concerning how this technology can be used as a critical med-tech asset.

C-PAHC describes cell phones as "the future conduit of interoperability for essential health information," thus advancing the overall goal of the Medical Records Institute.

Waegemann, serving as executive director of C-PAHC, foresees broad global integration of cell phones into healthcare applications in about five years.

"Hundreds, maybe thousands of applications are just coming out," he told MDD, with C-PAHC having identified 115 to 125 specific applications for them in healthcare. "People in various clinics and hospitals are already using cell phones. We're just at the very beginning."

Offering one example that fits with the Medical Record Institute's mission for expansion of EMR use, he described how a doctor or clinic could access a patient's EMR information from a cell phone message, making this detail available at a clinic or hospital even before the patient arrives.

This parallels, he said, the way some first-responders already have moved from paper records to cell phones to phone ahead key information to an emergency room for immediate treatment of the injured.

He cites two key barriers to expansion of cell phone use in healthcare: issues of interference with medical devices by cell phone signals, and the lack of comfort with cell phone technology by older physicians – such as the inability to use those little keys on a cell phone, a problem that Waegemann says will be solved via the development of new phones.

This is a "usability" problem, he says. "Many of the older doctors are saying, This isn't something I can work with, small keys, it's too hard to put [information] in, not something I want to get use to.' But the young, out of medical school in the last five to 10 years, are very much use to this technology."

Another potential barrier that Waegemann doesn't mention (MDD is glad to do it for him) is a key fear about cell phones — not exactly out of a Stephen King novel, but from rather serious reports concerning the potential for causing brain cancer.

Waegemann basically dismisses this, saying that such fears will pass, similar to the initial skepticism concerning the value of Internet information. He noted, for instance, the current broad use of the Internet to gather information about, and select, a physician and gather critical healthcare information.

"All of these are major changes. These fears will just go away," he said. And he sees "a healthcare revolution ... on the horizon," adding that "the new capabilities of modern cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, and other mobile devices are creating extraordinary new possibilities for healthcare. C-PAHC will be the premier organization to study and advocate these changes."

Waegemann said that his interest in EMR technology was sparked initially 25 years ago as he saw the increasing specialization by physicians, with the resultant fragmentation created by the inability of the specialties to share information – and about 12 years ago began thinking about the ability of cell phone technology to integrate this information.

"C-PAHC will become the international center and market place where interested parties can learn what is going on in the field of cell phones in healthcare," he said. "What we really see is that this will be a global process."

While the developed world can boast of its communication infrastructure, Waegemann said that, a bit ironically, "most of the activities" in cell phone/healthcare IT use may come in less-developed countries because such countries will be able to move ahead faster "without having to go through legacy systems."

He added: "Development of software will come from many countries; no one knows where the leading company will come from. C-PAHC will identify applications for which solutions are currently developed and available, as well as those under development. In face-to-face meetings and conference calls, it will provide a neutral platform for developers, healthcare planners, health informatics professionals, healthcare professionals and others to discuss common interests."

Membership in C-PAHC will provide a variety of benefits, such as discounts to C-PAHC-sponsored events, complimentary C-PAHC audiocasts, and access to C-PAHC reports and articles, as well as the opportunity to work together to promote common interests and solutions.

C-PAHC plans to hold a variety of meetings, an audiocast and a developers' workshop, this latter to be hosted in conjunction with the 2009 TEPR+ Conference, Feb. 1-5, in Palm Springs, California.

TEPR – for Towards the Electronic Patient Record, and celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009 — is billed as a conference to aid healthcare executives in developing the most innovative solutions for the implementation of healthcare information technology.