Nurses are constantly on their iPhones at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and that's OK with hospital administrators.
The hospital has given specially adapted iPhones to much of its clinical staff so they can make voice calls, send text messages or receive alarms about patient conditions and medication needs. They can access health care applications, such as drug reference information. By next year, they will be able to tap into the hospital's electronic medical record system as well.
The system, created by Voalte Inc., a Sarasota company that develops mobile software for health care, is one response to a growing issue facing businesses of all kinds — the demand by workers to use the same technology they are accustomed to using in their personal lives on the job, or what's been dubbed "the consumerization of technology."
Ninety-five percent of 600 businesses that responded to a survey commissioned by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) said they permit the use of employee-owned smartphones and tablets in the workplace. The survey found that three of every four IT managers consider the trend a positive for their companies, because employees can be more productive and feel more satisfied with their jobs.
The study estimated productivity gains from the "bring your own device" trend to range between $300 and $1,300 annually. But BYOD also brings complexity, with security and privacy issues, and IT support, being among the biggest challenges.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
One benefit of using the mobile devices on the job is employee "engagement," or the feeling of being a key part of a community, Paul Sonnier, head of digital health strategy at Popper and Co., a life sciences consulting firm in Sarasota. Sonnier cited the example of a nurse-staffing firm with employees who work in a variety of locations.
"If they can use mobile devices to improve job satisfaction, efficiency and make them feel they are part of the community, that can affect the bottom line in a good way," he said.
While the health care workers at Sarasota Memorial are not using their own devices but ones provided by the hospital, the hospital still is seeing a significant return on its $750,000 investment in the Voalte system, said Denis Baker, chief information officer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. He said Voalte just completed a time-motion study that found the hospital saved $1 million in nursing time annually.
"The time savings are minimal on a per-nurse basis, but given the number of nurses we have, over a year it adds up quickly," Baker said.
Voalte has taken several steps to ensure the information on the iPhones remains private and secure, said Rob Campbell, CEO. Information is encrypted and the devices are locked when they leave the hospital, so a personal identification number is needed to use the phone. There's also a mobile device management system.
"If a hospital worker loses the phone on the golf course, we can electronically wipe that phone of all that information," he said. "If it's stolen, we can lock it."
It doesn't help to encrypt a phone conversation if someone standing outside an office could overhear the conversation, so hospitals also are investing heavily in training about patient privacy standards, he said.
A digital revolution in health care is just beginning and will expand rapidly, predicted Sonnier. A "virtual clinical trial" by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), allowing participants to report results using mobile and Web technology, is "bringing clinical trials into the modern age," Sonnier said.
Health information today is where online commerce was 10 years ago, and more devices will become health tools, with sensors to measure data such as sleep patterns and diet, Campbell said. "Once we start collecting all this data, well find new diagnosis, see new patterns in preventive health care, and detect adverse effects of treatments or medication in ways we never could before."
Margie Manning is Quality and Content Editor of the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She also covers banking, finance and professional services.