Why careful planning is key in building a mobile strategy

5 key areas to consider when planning and implementing an approach for using and managing mobile devices in healthcare.

Deploying shared smartphones across an enterprise is a major decision that has implications on finance, productivity and even patient safety. According to a 2018 Spyglass Consulting Group survey, it’s also a common decision, as 90 percent of hospitals are making significant investments in smartphones and unified mobile communications platforms.

Organizations once considered smartphones a security risk. Now, they are providing them to enable mobile communications across teams, send critical notifications from legacy systems and replace outmoded communication options like pagers, land lines and overhead broadcasts.

For example, the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, New York, a 2018 HIMSS Davies Award of Excellence Winner, implemented a standardized clinical care communications platform to address escalating frustration with pagers and answering services.

Despite all of this progress, the healthcare industry still has limited experience deploying and managing mobile devices across thousands of users. A mix of consumer-grade smartphones and purpose-built devices has become the norm, which often results in early adopter pain and, in some cases, failed deployments.

The key to success is building a comprehensive and secure mobile strategy from the ground up with a keen eye on device usability, durability, reliability, technology and end-user adoption. Here are five specific areas of device performance and mobile device management (MDM) that should be considered as part of an effective plan to implement an enterprise-wide mobile communications strategy.

Device usability
  • Form factor—Does it feel good in the end users’ hands?
  • Compatibility—Does it run the various clinical applications your end users need?
  • Speed—Does it launch applications quickly with minimal lag?
  • Battery life—Can it get through a 12-hour shift on a single charge?

Durability of the hardware choice
  • Ruggedness—Has the device been repeatedly drop tested from four feet or more?
  • Resistance to liquids—Can the device be submerged, in case it falls into a sink or toilet?
  • Sanitization—Can the device withstand disinfection by commonly used agents?

  • Network stability—Can the device seamlessly transition across wireless access points without losing network connectivity?
  • Voice quality—Does the voice quality meet end-user expectations?

Technical factors
  • Secure operating system—Does the device have a contemporary operating system that will continue to receive security patches over the life of the device in your organization?
  • Manageability—Has your organization chosen a Mobile Device Management (MDM) platform to manage the devices?
  • Security rules and regulations—Have you identified the appropriate balance between security and usability?

  • Inclusive evaluation process—Have you included end users from various roles in the evaluation and decision-making process?
  • Communication and training—Do you have an effective plan to train and overcommunicate the change associated with the new device?
  • Openness to change—Have you identified some change champions to help facilitate the transition?

Answering all the questions within these five areas doesn’t guarantee a successful deployment. Many of the questions are merely the tip of the iceberg. For example, choosing an MDM requires a significant evaluation process of its own. Use these questions as a guide to inform a more comprehensive mobile device review.

Further, one of the most important steps in a device evaluation process is piloting the devices in real-world settings. Having end users test the smartphones in their daily workflow is the best way to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a device in your environment. Often a device that looks good on paper and impresses users in a conference room fails to meet expectations when deployed to your units.

For example, leaders from Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), a nationally-recognized specialty hospital in New York, New York, discussed testing mobile devices for nurses during a HIMSS18 educational session in March 2018. Key takeaways from their experience provide valuable lessons for any organization rolling out mobile devices to nursing teams.

Practical considerations for nurse mobility
According to Nick Wirth, director of operational excellence at HSS, most nursing communications are performed at a desktop on the unit. However, other nursing staff such as patient care directors, need mobile communication capabilities. This is especially true for patients with complicated post-operative care plans and multiple care team members.

For these nurses, pagers have been the stalwart—but suboptimal—solution. Using personal mobile devices also presents IT complexity and operational issues. Nurses initiate many of the messages to physicians and physician assistants (PAs). Therefore, the ability to streamline nurse-to-provider communication is critical.

Here are key lessons learned in HSS’s journey to implement a standardized clinical care communications platform for nurse mobility.
  • Listen to your frontline staff
  • Establish a sound communication policy and set clear expectations
  • Build a solid mobile IT foundation that grows as new needs are identified
  • Install touch-down stations to allow for charging of devices
  • Purchase back-up devices
  • Boost wireless connectivity
  • Use data to monitor communication patterns, trends and surges

Haste makes waste
Finally, don’t rush the decision with nurse, physician or other care team member mobile communications technology. You are contemplating a significant investment of both money and time. Document a comprehensive evaluation framework and stick to it. A hasty decision could mean the difference between success and failure.

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