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Is Your Hospital Ready for the Clinical Mobility Wave?


A wave crashing over nurses and doctor's on a smartphone

Quick Summary

  • With their unique requirements for secure, efficient communications, healthcare facilities need to exert care and patience when introducing new mobile devices into existing workflows.

  • Integrating new mobile technology can be risky and expensive, requiring organizations to consolidate technologies and have a clear roadmap for device and platform selection.

  • Despite their popularity and ease of use, consumer devices are not designed for a clinical environment and need to be equipped with the proper mobile device management platform before they can be used effectively in a hospital setting.

  • Often overlooked is the complexity around deploying enterprise voice communication inside an organization and how to get telephone calling capability—including push notifications—into a device so it works within the enterprise.

  • When preparing to upgrade an existing communications system, a clinical technology team with a strong understanding of how to roll out such devices is key to a smooth transition.

Mobile devices have been making headway into hospitals for some time. But with electronic medical records entities like Epic and Cerner driving smartphone adoption over the last fifteen years, their use has steadily accelerated, allowing smartphones to offer increasing competition to proprietary, purpose-built mobile communicators.

With its large percentage of deskless workers, healthcare facilities stand apart from other industries in their need for secure, efficient communications. Lives literally hang in the balance. But as cordless phone technologies become less common, making the switch to a new communications platform isn’t as simple as handing out iPhones to staff and hoping everything works. Introducing new devices into an existing workflow can be both risky and expensive, so a great deal of planning is needed and many factors have to be considered.

Cirkel Consulting Group founder Myron Wallace has a strong familiarity with network technologies, having worked for many of the largest providers on the network side before getting involved in healthcare, where he has focused on integrations and alarm management. This puts him—and Cirkel—in a unique position to observe the latest communications technology and trends.


It’s a picture that’s more complicated than it seems. According to Wallace, organizations moving away from cordless phones don’t always have the critical infrastructure in place to get new devices online as quickly as they would like—while alarm and event management notification technologies can take longer than expected to be made compatible with new or existing devices.

At the same time, many companies now want bespoke—every integration with its own set of requirements. “It may all come off of one Epic system,” he says, “but you might want to have a customized dashboard that has information specific to you and the way you run your organization. Or maybe you want to push the envelope and be very innovative and come up with new things.”

There are lots of potential angles, with budget being the primary limitation. But how to navigate today’s crowded landscape of mobile devices?


Preparing to make the change


Selecting which device will work best in a particular environment can be a challenge, but there are questions customers can ask to help jump start the process:

  • Is their facility already using a device that can serve as a single solution across the organization and provide the management capabilities the organization needs?

  • Where does that device live in its life cycle?

  • Is it possible to consolidate multiple applications onto the device and achieve a “single pane of glass”?

Beyond the device itself, questions regarding the existing local network also need to be asked:


  • Will the existing Wi-Fi network work correctly?

  • Are there enough access points?

  • Is the right firewall security in place?

One thing that often gets overlooked, says Wallace, is the complexity around deploying enterprise voice communication inside an organization.

“Why I kind of hone in on that,” he says, “is that if you're going to move from Ascom, or some [other] cordless phone technology that you're currently on, to a smartphone device, you have to figure out how to get the telephone calling capability into the device so it works within the enterprise. And that can come from a variety of different applications.”

Some organizations may have a preference for Cisco or Microsoft Teams, or even a hybridized approach using applications from CC&C companies whose products have built-in phone calling capabilities. No matter what, emphasizes Wallace, they need to support push notification.

Another big factor is the ability of an organization’s system integrators to take a network to the next level—whether that be cloud, hybrid cloud, or something else. This leads to the question of how to securely get outside the facility’s four walls into the public clouds of Amazon, Google, or Microsoft.


Integrating old with new


Healthcare uses a complex web of the most up-to-date technologies that, by necessity, include older, preexisting ones. Without the luxury of starting a platform from scratch, enterprise managers need to determine how to integrate the old technology with the new. At the same time, different departments use different technologies, making it difficult to institute an organization-wide platform. How will these ecosystems talk to one another? More often than not, a hybrid approach is needed that requires a hard look at the available technologies.

According to Wallace, “It really comes down to looking at all the different technologies that you're using across these systems—nurse call, who are you using for messaging, what telephony technology, what network technology you have in your organization—and kind of building this map and laying out, strategically, who do we have where, what could we consolidate and get rid of, and then how can we modernize and get things to the cloud?”

Settling on the right device


When surveying the field of available options, purpose-built devices like those from Zebra, Spectralink, or Ascom offer numerous advantages: They were designed specifically for healthcare, offer a comprehensive set of support tools, and include PBX connectivity, the ability to be wiped down without long-term damage, and in some cases provide a scanning engine on the back of the device to read barcodes for patient validation and meds administration. Because Zebra offers both a device and a platform, its devices can support specific worker functions within an organization.

But the popularity of consumer devices like the iPhone is both undeniable and growing, and it has led many organizations to bypass purpose-built devices. The downside is that, despite their popularity and ease of use, iPhones were not designed for a clinical environment and need to be equipped with the proper mobile device management platform before they can be used effectively in a hospital setting.

Two crucial features—push notifications and an ability to interact properly with Wi-Fi inside a healthcare environment—have not historically been native to iPhones, with Apple’s push notification service requiring a special entitlement to work on local Wi-Fi networks.

Android devices, which do support push notifications out of the box, are easier to convert than iPhones. But there remain complexities around infrastructure, mobile device management solutions, Wi-Fi infrastructure support and more, that require a seasoned IT professional to make sure critical infrastructure is in place and customers choose the technologies that fit their particular clinical enterprise.


In search of a single pane of glass


No matter what the solution, the limited real estate available on any device can make it a challenge to consolidate working applications down to only two or three.

“How do we operationalize these things,” Wallace asks, “so that you can look at them in that single pane of glass and manage them easily?”

One of the new technologies addressing this problem is Zebra’s Imprivata tech, which allows tapping a badge on the back of a device to load a user’s profile. Whether the data originates from Epic or some other platform, Imprivata loads the user’s apps, shortcuts, and telephone extensions on the device, making it ready for use. The biggest benefit, says Wallace, is that it sidesteps the need to sign into a series of applications—preventing the clinical, cognitive overload that has become typical in the industry.

Ultimately, he says, the platform integrations performed in healthcare are unique, with a long checklist of necessary tools, and a clinical technology team with a strong understanding of how to roll out such devices is key to a smooth transition. Companies like Cirkel can assess readiness and help customers think ahead about such things, especially customers who may have embraced a new platform without fully understanding what’s necessary.

At the end of the day, it’s important for a device to be simple to use—especially given today’s staffing shortages.

“The last thing you want to do,” says Wallace, “is burden your end users with having to figure out new technology and how to leverage and navigate that.”


 

 

Founder and principal consultant at Cirkel Consulting Group, Myron Wallace has been at the forefront of revolutionary business solutions for over twenty years. He has led teams to build technologies that have enabled tech start-ups to launch into the market, changed how businesses operate and transformed how they communicate both internally and with their customers. His career spans product leadership experience within start-up and hyper-growth technology firms, and he is a Senior Director and Product Line Executive at TigerConnect. 

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