Have you noticed that the personal phone you carry is light years more advanced than the device you depend on for complex clinical communication?
The number-one reason for sentinel events in healthcare is a breakdown in communication, yet most hospitals are fighting this battle with outdated, voice-only technology such as voice badges. While many hospitals have the latest technology to create 3D images of our anatomy, they still aren’t able to send a simple, secure text message from one caregiver to another. Most communication technology is decades old, yet hospitals keep spending precious HIT dollars on the same capability year after year.
Meanwhile, secure text messaging has emerged as the preferred communication method of most consumers, as well as clinicians. It allows busy people to multitask, managing their communications around their personal availability. Most communication needs in a hospital setting don’t require a real-time voice conversation. Asynchronous text messaging serves clinicians’ needs extremely well without the downsides of ringing phones, discussing private health information in a public setting, searching for phone numbers, leaving voice mail that may or may not be retrieved, and so on. Texting is preferable in public over the noise and disruption of voice calls, plus it facilitates group conversations and makes it easy to send departmental messages.
So how can hospitals break away from unreliable, voice-only technology and embrace smartphones with secure texting as a meaningful upgrade from their current communication tools?
One important component is implementing a secure smartphone strategy with ongoing operational support. A Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution added to a hospital-owned, shared smartphone will add security, software control, asset management and reporting, and remote wipe capabilities. Third-party solutions are readily available to make smartphones more rugged and extend battery life. A huge benefit of hospitals adopting a solution originally intended for personal consumers is the vast third-party ecosystem of suppliers and applications, which drives costs down and innovation up.
You also should ask how your current communication technology ties in to future mandates for electronic medical records (EMR). While voice badges are restricted to communication functions, smartphones put the power of EMR literally in the hands of clinicians while they are caring for patients, when they need it most.
Healthcare has been stuck in a rut, replacing one vendor’s mobile voice communication system with another, only to end up with the same essential capability – the ability to place a voice call. Even worse, voice badge vendors are recommending hospitals “upgrade” their current system with new hardware “features” that should have been there in the first place (durability, better microphone, louder speaker and so on). An upgrade should be a real upgrade, with features like a QWERTY keyboard, 4-inch Retina display, flashlight, camera, speakerphone, industry-standard OS with extensive third-party applications, built-in clock with timers, third-party protective cases and batteries, and more.
Before you spend any more money on communication devices, step back and ask what you are trying to accomplish and what you are really getting for your money. Avoid spending precious funds for a solution that does not significantly impact your clinical workflow today or prepare you for the Meaningful Use criteria of the future. We have a long way to go to improve clinical communication, and relying on obsolete technology is not going to reduce those potential sentinel events anytime soon.