During the past two years, hospitals have increased their adoption of facility-provided and physically hardened smartphones for nursing staff and other ancillary care providers, results of a new survey show.

In many hospitals, nurses have been dissatisfied with other communication options, such as landline phones, overhead paging, Voice over Internet Protocol handsets and pagers, says Gregg Malkary, managing director at Spyglass Consulting Group, a mobile health advisory firm. He conducted the survey of more than 100 IT and healthcare professionals for three months, starting in March.

For years, it has been common for nurses to use their personal smartphones on the job, but that introduces serious security vulnerabilities into a facility, particularly inadequate password protection and the use of unsecured SMS text messaging. Security also was potentially compromised when clinicians found workarounds, such as using their phones to take pictures of X-rays or EHR screens and sending those images via phone to a colleague, Malkary says.

Gregg Malkary
Gregg Malkary

Now, the move is toward building a secure smartphone communications network platform, with hospital-supplied smartphones, across the enterprise, and that type of approach is bringing new efficiencies to healthcare organizations, he believes.

Hospitals have over-invested in terminals that clinicians used to access patient information, and a common smartphone platform removes that cost and increases clinician efficiency by negating the need for them to always find a terminal to access or input data. A smartphone platform also can support functions beyond communications, such as reading bar codes and collecting vital signs data, Malkary says.

Survey results show that when nurses use a hospital-supplied smartphone linked to the network platform, it reduces the perceived need to use a personal phone, and they stopped using their own phones.

The research identified one problem, however. Physicians now have noticed the ease and efficiency of such smartphone platforms, but they still want to use their own personal smartphone devices for both professional and personal purposes.

That requires new policies, with medical device management software installed on physicians’ personal phones, Malkary says. However, it is unclear at this stage whether physicians will be willing to accept terms that include usage of their phones, such as data being collected on where they are going and what they are looking at on their phones.

Slideshow
Survey: Clinicians Rapidly Increase Mobile Adoption

Physicians also would have to agree to download and use specific security apps, stop using SMS text messaging and stop activities such as posting photos with patients to Facebook accounts. “This is a change management issue,” Malkary notes.

The upside, he adds, is a compelling return on investment for hospitals adopting standardized smartphone policies, as measures collected on the phones can be tracked and phones can efficiency be replaced as necessary.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Hospital IT staff must evaluate the WLAN infrastructure to ensure it provides adequate reliability, performance and coverage throughout the facility.
  • IT staff must evaluate the systems integration requirements for hospital legacy systems, biomedical devices and the EHRs to support data-driven closed loop communications.
  • Clinical informatics and hospital IT should access the clinical environment by walking the hospital floors, reviewing departmental floor plans and evaluating specific workflow considerations.
  • Hospital leadership must closely monitor end user feedback through surveys, usage reports, direct observation and hospital IT trouble tickets. They must encourage end users to suggest new and innovative ways that smartphone-based communications can be used to improve team-based communications.

The report, “Point of Care Communications for Nursing 2016,” is available for purchase here.

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