To simplify communication for busy hospital nurses, some mHealth companies believe the answer lies in “hands-free” devices. By wearing a voice badge, they say, nurses are free to talk even when their hands are busy.
If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, broadcasting patient information over a speaker worn around a nurse’s neck raises serious HIPAA-compliance issues. Say a nurse is busy with one patient when she receives a call about a second patient. The caller first asks if the nurse is free to talk. The nurse must excuse herself and go into the hall or a private area where the caller can’t be heard, or tell the caller she will call back later. The first patient hears the conversation, and wonders why his or her care is being interrupted.
Beyond the broken workflow and constant interruptions inherent in voice badge technology, nurses also have to grapple with the challenges of voice recognition software. Those with regional accents, non-native English speakers and people who speak quickly will need to slow down and speak unnaturally to be understood. And while the latest voice badges can display alarms and text, their postage-stamp-sized screen requires text to be so small that most nurses need to reach for their reading glasses to see important messages. Not so hands-free after all.
At Voalte, we’ve found most nurse communication involves sending a message or task, such as:
- Lab results are ready for Rm 222.
- Patient would like ice chips in Rm 243.
- Can you cover for me while I’m off the floor?
For this type of communication, text messages easily replace voice calls. After switching to Voalte iPhones, one customer found their clinicians used texting at a 9-to-1 ratio over phone calls. Texting eliminates ringing phones, reduces overhead paging and eases the hunt for an alternate caregiver. Text messages also give nurses a date- and time-stamped to-do list so she can prioritize her tasks or delegate to another caregiver.
Smartphones also handle alarms, provide access to third-party medical apps and integrate with nurse call systems. And unlike proprietary voice badge technology, smartphones are geared toward emerging technologies that will tie in to electronic medical records.
If a hands-free device requires a trade-off in more interruptions, more noise, more communication challenges and more HIPAA violations, the benefits aren’t worth the cost. While we’re talking cost, it may be a good time to mention the special promotion we’re offering through September 30, 2013. If you’re being asked to trade in an obsolete legacy device for a new version with no new functions, it might be time to consider letting go of the past.