Ten Mobile Communications Predictions for 2012

By Chris Heim

The year 2012 will be a transformational one for smartphones in healthcare. It seems that everyone – from teenagers to senior citizens – has a smartphone. Of course, millions of healthcare professionals now carry them as well. In fact, the growth of mobile technologies is really not even much of a news story anymore. What is exciting is that people are becoming clever at finding new ways to use mobile communications to make meaningful improvements in healthcare. Indeed, the still-emerging capabilities of today’s technologies go far beyond phone calls, email, and medical apps. Smartphones and other mobile devices have kicked off a communications and productivity revolution.

Given this changing environment and the new possibilities in mobile communications, Amcom assembled a roundtable of industry and technology experts to compile a list of what 2012 will bring for mobile communications in healthcare.

1) Hospitals will start doing even smarter things with smartphones: When smartphones began making inroads into healthcare, the industry was abuzz with the idea that they would soon elbow out pagers for critical communications. In 2012, more healthcare providers will recognize that smartphones have evolved into a core element of healthcare communications, enabling mobile access to EMR systems, a host of amazing medical apps, on-call scheduling, directory lookup and messaging, “contact me” preferences, and even medical device connectivity.

2) An incident involving compromised protected health information on a smartphone will cause headlines: A recent Ponemon Institute study found a shocking 32 percent increase in the frequency of data breaches in hospitals. Surprisingly, only half of those surveyed took measures to secure protected health information on mobile devices. The study reports an estimated average cost of $2.2 million per data breach related to this negligence.

Access to protected health information is an important topic when it comes to using smartphones. This is really a two-fold problem. The transmission of messages must be secure, and the information must remain safe once on the device in the event it is lost or stolen. Features like encrypted messaging, password-protected inboxes, and the ability to remotely wipe a device of sensitive data are key protections.

3) An increased proliferation of mobile communication devices: Some organizations have tried to support a narrow set of smartphones. However, the explosive growth of technologies and devices in this “consumer” oriented market means that the newest devices will always need to be incorporated. Smartphones aside, there are many other types of devices in hospitals today, and they all need to be part of the network. Tablets, in-building Wi-Fi phones, voice badges, pagers, and desk phones – every role seems to have a different type of device for receiving messages. Hospitals need a single system that deploys a message to the right individual or group on their preferred devices — no matter what those devices happen to be.

4) Traceability will become a requirement, not a luxury: When pagers were the de facto standard in mobile communications, there was always a problem with message traceability and knowing if and when an important notification was received. If someone launched a code call and one or more doctors or other responders said they didn’t receive it or were not on call, serious consequences could ensue. A 2010 study determined that $91 million in malpractice awards was due to communications errors in three areas: failure of physicians and patients to receive results, delays in report findings, and lengthy turnaround time.

Messaging traceability is now possible whether a communication goes to a smartphone, pager, Wi-Fi phone, or something else. In 2012, the difference between a hospital using the latest technology to do things the right way and one doing it the wrong way will bring this problem to light. Legal cases or the Joint Commission may establish traceable communications as a standard of care.

5) Predictions of the death of pagers will again be proven wrong: Many experts have predicted the death of pagers and paging for many years, but they are wrong. Those who have moved from pagers to smartphones for day-to-day messaging and information exchange probably won’t be going back, but pagers may be the right device for a portion of a hospital’s staff for years to come.

When disasters occur, voice cellular and even Wi-Fi networks can become clogged with traffic and shut down. In these times, wide-area paging has repeatedly proven itself as the “go-to” technology of communications flow. This is yet another year when hospitals realize there’s still a need for this trusty pal in disaster situations.

6) Specialized communication hardware devices will fail to gain traction: There are a wide variety of communication devices available. Pagers are cheap, reliable, and durable; a portion of the market will stay with them. Others will move to the part of the spectrum dominated by smartphones and tablets. In the middle, there will be very little room for specialized devices beyond long-trusted technologies, such as Wi-Fi phones.

The recent emergence of specialized hardware solutions that offer what a pager can do, and more, will ultimately prove to be a temporary success. Our research suggests that hospitals will continue to gravitate toward messaging on smartphones, which offer them even more of what a pager can do.

7) Web out, apps in: The first generation of smartphone users saw a barrage of “solutions” on their phones that just needed a browser to run. This was easy to deploy but difficult to use, so adoption lagged. Good apps make communication and data entry easier, not just mobile. This speaks to having the right form factor and touch screen capability. In 2012, power users will demand that mobile healthcare solutions be truly mobile apps – not just browser-based versions of Web solutions.

8) Hospitals raise the “Now what?” question with tablets: Tablets are amazing and have been purchased by many physicians. Hospitals are working on integrating them into their communications and work processes – with varying results. In 2012, more tablets will be sold than used effectively for communications in healthcare. Mobile healthcare initiatives will continue to struggle with best practices for using tablets for critical communications. People will still be wowed, but the highly compelling uses may be evasive.

9) IT and BioMed will join forces for improved workflow: There are many clinical solutions in hospitals that run well and serve a valuable purpose, but most don’t have a lot of IT involvement. Examples include medical devices such as patient monitoring systems, pulse oximeters, ventilators, and infusion pumps. These systems are essential for patient care, but they typically are handled by the BioMed team, not the IT team. This year will be pivotal for these two groups as they work together to develop an enterprise-wide communications platform, delivering clinical data via smartphones and other mobile devices.

10) Hospitals will deliver comprehensive mobile strategies: The concept of creating a documented mobile strategy has been on the rainy day list for hospitals. As already covered, some of the problems associated with not having a good strategy include failure to provide effective security and message traceability, as well as failure to consider issues raised by “bring-your-own-device” trends.

This year the CIO, CMIO, and others will outline an organizational strategy for mobile devices and enforce it. These strategies will include plans for supporting the many different devices in use. Other considerations to address will be whether devices are to run mostly on Wi-Fi or cellular networks – or both. These strategies will help determine which types of devices are needed for which functions.

Conclusion: The year 2012 will be an exciting time, as hospitals continue finding ways to use mobile devices and their capabilities to their full potential. Smartphones are wonderful on their own, but when integrated into a hospital’s broader communications infrastructure – spanning clinical systems, critical messaging, centralized directories and schedules, and lab results – they provide better, more informed patient care.

Chris Heim is president of Amcom Software.

[From the February/March 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]