This month the SDForum Software Architecture and Modeling SIG heard about a real application for mobile information technology. The talk was called "Worlds collide: when mobile, real-time requirements meet fragmented legacy systems: Lessons learned in providing real-time patient information to emergency room physicians."
The point of the talk was that with mobile applications (as with most other applications) , the important problems turn out to be different that the problem anticipated by the developers when they start the project. In particular the speakers proposed that an emergency room mobile information system needs to be situationally aware so that it helps the doctor in a high pressure and demanding environment rather then get in the way.
The thing that I took away from the talk is a desire to give the doctor more of an event driven life. When a patient comes to an emergency room, the hospital or medical organization may already have a lot of information about the patient. While there, the doctor may order several tests and the results of these tests is further information about the patient. All of this information can be made available on a portable device.
A problem is that the patient information may not be available immediately and the results of tests dribble back. Thus the doctor is always polling to see whether they have enough information to go back to the patient and make a further assessment or order a treatment. As the doctor is responsible for several patients, the doctor has several queues of events to poll.
When implemented with conventional technology, each patient has a box. Paper with test results arrive and are put in the box. The doctor is constantly looking through boxes to see what new results have arrived since they last looked.
The mobile application uses an iPAQ type PDA with a fingerprint reader for easy authentication. The primary screen shows a list of patients with a simple traffic light scorecard of the types of tests that have been ordered and whether the results are available. The doctor still has to look at the screen and understand what has changed, however they have a single screen with the information about what they can do next.
Mobile applications are going to become increasingly important and this presentation convinced me that they are not just desktop or even laptop applications with a small screen. Mobile applications need to be more situationally aware to overcome the constraints of the UI. At the same time done properly they can remove the need to poll and allow us to lead the event driven life.