What a difference a few years makes. It wasn’t long ago that healthcare CIOs declared they would never use smartphones for caregiver communication. Now, with smartphones proliferating throughout the nation’s hospitals as an effective clinical communication solution, many vendors are adding smartphone options to their product lines. If you’re attending HIMSS15 in Chicago this week, you will undoubtedly see traditional communication vendors touting the benefits of their brand-new smartphone offerings.
The good news: It’s fairly easy to build a smartphone app using current development technologies. The bad news: It’s not so easy to build a solid smartphone platform that’s reliable in the healthcare environment and scalable enterprise-wide.
While vendors may present their smartphone solutions as tried and true, many have only a portion of their advertised functionality deployed in a real healthcare environment. And many of those deployments are small, one-unit pilot projects that haven’t been tested site-wide. As you assess the mobile communication solutions presented at HIMSS, take the time to ask probing questions to determine which vendor, products and services are right for your facility.
When it comes to a smartphone solution, ask if it’s scalable, sustainable and substantiated:
1. Is it scalable? A simple texting application is easy to demonstrate and simple to sell with a nicely designed PowerPoint presentation, but if it can’t scale to your needs, it’s not worth your time or financial investment. Ask vendors to refer you to major healthcare organizations that are successfully using the solution enterprise-wide.
According to a Forbes article, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles implemented a mobile communication solution unit by unit over the course of about three years. Today, smartphones have scaled to cover the entire the facility, with more than 4,500 caregivers and other staff sending hundreds of thousands of text messages via Voalte One every month.
2. Is it sustainable? The healthcare industry changes quickly. A communication solution that only answers today’s challenges and doesn’t build a solid foundation for a complete mobile communication platform may soon become obsolete. As you explore your options at HIMSS, be careful you don’t bank on a vendor who can handle only one of your overall communication needs, with promises to tackle the others later.
When Boulder Community Health in Colorado replaced legacy phones with smartphones last year, CIO Linda Minghella said text messaging was a big benefit to the staff, but made clear the ability to integrate with other technologies was an even bigger advantage. The hospital tied in the new smartphone solution to the nurse call system, for example, and according to a recent article, hopes to make the electronic medical record available via smartphones in the future.
When meeting with mobile communication vendors, ask if their smartphones can integrate with alert notifications from nurse call, patient monitoring or electronic medical record systems. Be sure these alerts are being delivered successfully to smartphones, rather than tying in with traditional legacy phones.
Also ask how they plan to support their smartphone solutions before and after go-live. Deploying and maintaining applications is time-intensive, and mobile device management requires a precise process to ensure your solution is secure. Be sure you sign up with a partner that can commit to a long-term relationship rather than a “one go-live stand.”
3. Is it substantiated? With new solutions entering the market quickly, watch out for “vaporware” that’s in development, but not yet ready for prime time. Before entering into an agreement, ask for five or ten reference sites, and check them out thoroughly to ensure the smartphone solution fits your specific needs.
Your hospital is unique, and you need a smartphone solution that can be customized accordingly. By investigating the process other healthcare organizations used to implement smartphones, you can get a sense of the vendor’s expertise in those various areas.
You have some difficult choices to make when exploring mobile healthcare technologies. While an influx of companies and solutions will push the mHealth industry forward, it will also make it more challenging to decide how and where to spend your technology dollars. Come to HIMSS15 next week armed with some tough questions, stay focused on your goals, and don’t get blinded by the bright lights and displays that may be more flash than substance.
Trey Lauderdale is Founder and CEO of Voalte, a mobile healthcare technology company. Visit voalte.com or follow @Voalte on Twitter.
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