Commentary: Patients expect high quality healthcare, whether they’re being seen at a hospital or in a physician’s office. They want to be assured that the staff will know them, their medical history and the results of their recent tests. Most importantly, they want to know that they will be taken care of in a timely manner. With healthcare costs skyrocketing, this has become more of a demand than an expectation. Delivering that isn’t easy; many priorities are vying for medical professionals’ attention. For example, research indicates that nurses spend more than 55 percent of their time in documentation and care coordination.

Time constraints also are exacerbated by staffing pressures. The American Nurses Association is predicting a looming nursing shortage. The professional group’s data suggest that, during the past decade, the average age of employed registered nurses has increased by nearly two years, from 42.7 years in 2000 to 44.6 years in 2010, and currently, 55 percent of the nursing population is older than age 50.

Time and staffing pressures are showing disastrous results in hospitals. Several recent reports have suggested that thousands of patients die each year from healthcare-associated infections and medical errors.

These challenges are operational in nature. Mitigating them, as well as meeting or exceeding patient expectations, takes technology. Smart devices – connected to a reliable wireless network with bandwidth to spare – can deliver access to timely, accurate and actionable patient data. Armed with the ability to input and access real-time patient data anywhere, healthcare workers can quickly identify a life-threatening drug allergy or quickly identify surgical procedure complications.

Technology also can enable administrators to better utilize staff. For example, administrators can see where their staff is, what activity they are performing and how well they are performing it. The ability to integrate patient medical records and needed care data with location and availability information on specific medical supplies, equipment or clinical staff makes it easier to respond quickly to patient needs.

As patient expectations inevitably rise, the quality of the patient care given, including a healthcare facility’s reputation and bottom line, will depend on those technology investments.

Achieving administrative visibility into the facility is crucial, particularly in the areas of supplies, equipment, staff and patient health details. Visibility enables healthcare organizations to achieve key patient care outcomes, satisfaction and operational goals.

The benefits of enabling mobile access to information for nurses and other healthcare professionals will grow in importance. This will be particularly true with the increase in use of portable devices and solutions that can scan patient wristbands and connect to critical patient information via wireless access points.The proliferation of such devices also can streamline administrative processes and workflows so that nurses can spend more time responding to patients’ needs, and less time looking for equipment, medications and updating paper charts.

Integrated mobile solutions can bring complete patient data directly to the bedside, where decisions and updates can be made immediately. They also enhance and facilitate greater collaboration between doctors and other healthcare practitioners.

In this vision of a “connected” healthcare model, patient data, hospital staff and equipment are all connected in real-time. Imagine if the patient experience is visible from the time they are admitted to the hospital to the moment they are discharged. Waiting time is limited, patients are aware of exactly when a doctor or nurse will arrive, when a procedure will start and when their test results will be ready. The hospital would also have real-time visibility into the equipment and staff that patient’s procedure requires, and the digital intelligence to know where those assets and staff members are located, to facilitate the procedure efficiently.

When the patient is discharged from the healthcare facility, he or she does so with real-time access to test results, his or her doctor’s orders, and educational material that enables a positive healthcare outcome. Family and caregivers can even monitor their loved one’s progress inside the hospital and out.

Also consider health outbreaks in this scenario. Hospitals can determine, in a matter of minutes, the source of the outbreak and who was exposed from staff, to equipment and people. The outbreak can then be contained and other patients protected from being infected, potentially saving lives and significant cost implication to the healthcare facility.

Better quality patient care translates into more positive healthcare outcomes, via more efficient and streamlined visibility into resources and operations. With thoughtful investment in integrated technology and an optimized management platform, the critical, life-saving goals of healthcare organizations are now within reach.

Ahmed Fahmy is director of innovation and business development at Zebra Technologies, a company that offers tracking technology and other solutions.

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