Though they still have some way to go, hospitals have come a long way in terms of mobile communication technology. Only five years ago, healthcare fell well short of other industries in its embrace of smartphones. While sectors such as agriculture, construction and retail were finding innovative business uses for smartphones, landlines, beepers and overhead paging were the name of the game in most hospitals. Landlines outnumbered smartphones by 3 to 1, more than half of nurse leaders and a quarter of staff nurses were still carrying beepers, and overhead paging added to the clamor and stress of an environment that is meant to be calm and healing.
Back in 2013, Voalte carried out a survey of hospital nurses in partnership with American Nurse Today. The study found that nearly 75 percent of nurses in U.S. hospitals were, like the rest of us, happily using smartphones in their personal lives. On the job, it was another matter, with only 25 percent having the same technology available to them.
Our survey indicated some of the reasons for that. We found the majority of staff nurses were spending more than half their time on communication, charting and waiting for patient information – in other words, on activities other than caring for patients. Nurses also reported that unnecessary interruptions were their biggest communication challenge.
Fortunately, we’re starting to see some major changes. Smartphones now enable nurses to send and respond to text messages quickly, and prioritize alarms so only the most urgent requests result in an interruption. At some Voalte hospitals, we’ve found secure text messaging can eliminate up to 70 percent of ringing telephones and nearly all overhead paging, and even help reduce the effects of “alarm fatigue.”
Now, five years after our survey, communication technology has caught up to the unique demands of the hospital setting, and the potential benefits are such that hospitals can no longer overlook them. According to a 2018 survey by Spyglass Consulting Group, 90 percent of healthcare systems plan to invest significantly in smartphones and secure unified communication by the end of 2019. Moreover, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of hospitals already have or are in the process of developing mobile strategies to address the collaboration, communication and computing needs of clinical professionals and others across a range of medical environments. And 68 percent are already using middleware to collect, monitor, and manage data and alarms from hospital systems.
That’s a far cry from where we were when we first surveyed nurses in 2013. Capabilities like encryption and PIN locks ensure compliance with HIPAA privacy rules, while EHR integration opens a realm of possibilities barely conceived of until recently. Smartphones now are able to meet government mandates, increase productivity, boost profitability and – the real bottom line – truly improve patient care.