The explosion of mobile applications has been one of the biggest health IT stories of 2011, and with good reason: Mobile apps can offer hospitals and doctors portable versions of medical devices and instant access to stores of medical research. And at a time when cost pressures are forcing providers to envision a care delivery process that can serve patients with fewer inpatient interactions, mobile apps also offer a way to reach those ends.

Lately, though, I've been coming across an increasing number of examples of how hospitals are harnessing the power of mobile applications beyond the clinical setting as a way to connect with potential patients and offer them real-time, valuable information on where to go for their care in a pinch.

For instance, Baptist Health in South Florida now offers patients real-time information on wait times for physicians at its urgent care centers and emergency rooms. For its efforts, Baptist Health received a 2011 Most Wired Innovator Award, and my colleague, H&HN Senior Editor for Data and Research, Suzanna Hoppszallern, recently talked to Baptist Health's Petter Melau, the project lead for the mobile app initiative. Melau said the service has been extremely popular; within two days of the app launching, 1,000 users signed up. Melau added that the application also has helped users clarify the difference between services offered by Baptist Health's urgent care facilities and its emergency rooms, a critical distinction in an era of overcrowded EDs.

And industry momentum for mobile apps is definitely quickening. Earlier this week, Carolinas Health System, a 30-hospital system based in Charlotte announced the rollout of a new, free mobile app that allows patients to find locations, check wait times or even search for physicians via their location and specialty.

Beyond the advantages these types of mobile apps offer patients, many IT experts are convinced that if current usage trends continue, it won't be long before smart phones will supplant web-based browsers as the chief access point for online information. For H&HN Daily, for instance, roughly 20 percent of our daily readers access the publication via their phone and not a traditional browser. And on a personal level, I'm a huge fan of the mobile sites in Chicago that allow me to check train and bus times on the go. In other words, in a few years time patients will view mobile apps with real-time information not as an added amenity but as an expected service.

How is your organization embracing mobile applications to reach potential consumers with real-time information? Email your thoughts to

Haydn Bush is the senior online editor for Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.