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Smartphone app seeks to streamline Alaska health care

Hannah HeimbuchThe Arctic Sounder

With the help of a communications upgrade, Alaska's health care system takes another step toward tech-savvy efficiency.

DocbookMd is a HIPAA-compliant application for mobile devices, used by county medical associations throughout the country. Alaska, however, is the first state to adopt the smartphone application software as an approved communications system for physicians.

"We're making it available to our members on a statewide basis," said Jim Jordan, executive director of the Alaska State Medical Association. ASMA is a nonprofit, volunteer association of physicians.

DocbookMD will open up a number of communication options that will streamline medical services, especially in Alaska's rural areas. For one, the application offers immediate access to contact information for all of Alaska's practicing physicians, specialists and medical facilities. This makes referrals that much easier (previously this was in print format.)

The real kicker, however, is the information this application allows physicians to share -- and share legally. Previously, sharing information on mobile devices this way violated privacy codes.

"You run into some aspects of law that you really need to take care of under the rubric of privacy," said Jordan. "That's where DocbookMD really shines, is that it's an app for a mobile device but it utilizes the highest level encryption available."

The application can be utilized through a number of common devices -- iPhones, iPod touches, iPads and Android phones to name a few -- and many types of important information can be transferred quickly and efficiently at the time of need.

"The robustness of this app allows transmission of images, X-rays, EKGs, as well as photographs," Jordan said. "What this allows is faster communication between physicians."

Jordan said there are countless examples of how this could benefit Alaska's isolated, rural communities.

"If you have somebody that's had some kind of a mishap, and there's a bone fracture, and the question is transfer or not transfer in to a higher level of care, send an X-ray to an orthopedic surgeon somewhere else to look at."

Jordan said this kind of efficiency of communication about important medical decisions can ensure people are getting the appropriate care, without running up a massive transportation and treatment bill when it's not necessary.

This program was made available through the Medical Insurance Exchange of California, which the ASMA has endorsed for more than 30 years. "They had been looking at the whole concept of communi- cation between physicians and physicians, between physicians and patients," Jordan said. "Through their sponsorship they have made it possible for ASMA to offer this app to our members at no cost."

Alaska may be the first to make this step, but it won't be the last.

"There will be other states that will be adopting this statewide, and are moving that direction," Jordan said. That includes Hawaii and Idaho. Another future step may include electronic prescriptions.

Jordan said use of the application will streamline the healthcare process and make it patient friendly. "In medicine the sooner you get the person to the appropriate care the better off you are in the long run." That goes for health and cost.

Jordan said the application will be functioning within Alaska communities by the New Year, and hopes it will align with GCI's efforts to provide broadband wireless service to all Alaska communities during 2012.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder.