Amcom Software Study: Understanding the Emergence of Smartphones in Healthcare

In October 2010, Amcom Software surveyed more than 300 healthcare organizations about the use of smartphones in their facilities to better understand the healthcare industry and how mobile devices are making an impact. Survey participants were from hospitals of all sizes across North America and included clinical leadership, IT, telecommunications, and call center supervisor titles.

The responses revealed that there is a communications revolution occurring in hospitals today. With highly mobile staff members and the increasing use of smartphones, new ways to share and act on information abound. The slight majority of survey respondents, 54.5 percent, are currently sending job-related alerts or pages to personnel on their smartphones. With these technology changes, the need for fast, accurate messaging remains crucial to maintain patient safety at all times.

Of the individuals who do not currently send job-related alerts to smartphones, over 70 percent stated their organization either has plans in place or is considering messaging to smartphones in the future. As more hospitals incorporate smartphones and they become the standard, it’s important to consider these realizations to ensure a smooth transition over the long run. It is vital to remember the most important goal is to get the right message to the right person on the right device at the right time.

Diverse Array of Devices Needed

Perhaps the insight from the survey is that there is great diversity in the devices being used today. Paging overall has declined very little in actuality. So, it’s not an either/or question when it comes to pagers versus smartphones. Healthcare organizations need to communicate with a variety of devices, including pagers, smartphones, traditional cell and desk phones, Wi-Fi phones, voice communication badges, email systems, and tablets. In fact, different staff members tend to need different things. Nurses often rely on Wi-Fi phones, housekeeping on pagers, and physicians on smartphones. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As long as messages reach the right people on the right device at the right time, patient safety standards can be protected and staff can be satisfied.

When it comes to smartphones in particular, there are many popular models and platforms to support. There’s no true standard. Because of this, BlackBerry®, iPhone®, Android®, and other smartphone types all need to be included. IT needs an easy way to allow staff to message to everyone, regardless of the smartphone carried or the type of cellular provider. In the end, sending a message to a smartphone should require only a phone number; nothing else should matter. They also need to add/remove users easily and be able install a simple application on the smartphone that is intuitive to all users.

As far as the device types leading the smartphone pack in the healthcare industry, BlackBerry is the current leader in the survey, with notable growth from Android and iPhone. The Windows Mobile platform does not appear to be gaining much traction at this point.

Integration with Other Systems

Mobile event notification middleware has been around for many years. This allows alert systems such as nurse call, patient monitoring, pulse oximeters, and many others to be centralized in a hub and sent directly to the mobile device of the appropriate staff member. The idea is that staff members can respond more quickly to these alerts, improving patient safety as well as their own efficiency.

More than 50 percent of survey respondents stated their hospital has the ability to send notifications from their nurse call system to staff’s mobile devices. More than a third stated they send messages from bed management systems and alarm systems to mobile devices. Overall, this means there is good progress toward an interconnected enterprise of devices to endpoints. Survey respondents indicated a wide variety of possible connection points are being used.

Looking forward, it would be possible to have a patient setting off a nurse call system and having the nurse receive notification on his or her smartphone. By streamlining the communication process between the patient and nurse, organizations could reduce falls and increase patient satisfaction.

Barriers to Smartphone Adoption

Hospitals are filled with sensitive information about patients and staff members, from health records to billing information to social security numbers. Communication devices, such as smartphones, can access much of this data, and information can also be stored in the technology itself. Likewise, messages can contain sensitive patient details and should not be viewed by anyone other than the intended recipient.

Security was noted as a concern with smartphone messaging given the sensitive nature of healthcare communications. Amcom’s smartphone messaging solution excels in this area by sending encrypted messages, which are then decrypted by the application on the smartphone. Even the message inbox can be password protected. This helps you with HIPAA and the HITECH Act and keeps staff and patient details protected.

Lack of coverage emerged as a relatively minor issue, with only 28.8 percent of respondents mentioning it. This is interesting in light of a similar survey Amcom performed a year prior to this one, showed that the major barrier to adoption was cellular coverage. This shift is most likely due to the ability of smartphones to use the local Wi-Fi network and hospitals working with cellular carriers. Amcom has also worked with customers on several scenarios to handle this; some hospitals have improved cellular coverage using distributed antenna systems in their facilities.

Amcom Mobile Connect: Simplifying Communications

Many organizations are undertaking a long-term approach to replacing the majority of their pagers. This means supporting a variety of communication devices for the near future. Amcom Mobile Connect™ enables hospitals to do what makes sense based on their staff and messaging requirements. An approach like this enables some staff members to consolidate devices using smartphones, while others may continue to use pagers or other devices as required. With Amcom Mobile Connect, hospitals can simplify communications and strengthen care by using smartphones for code alerts, patient updates, lab results, and consult requests.

Technology will continue to change, but the need for fast, accurate staff messaging remains constant. Ultimately, hospitals need to message to the right recipient without worrying about which device is being carried. The entrance of smartphones offers an opportunity to reevaluate everyday interactions and find ways to make healthcare organizations a safer place for patients, staff, and visitors.

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[From the April/May 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]