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Why Hospital Leaders Have Had a Change of Heart About Clinical Mobility Solutions

Rikki Jennings (BSN, RN, CPN), Chief Nursing Informatics Officer, Zebra Technologies

If I were to tell you that clinical mobility is becoming a game changer for healthcare, you would probably look at me puzzled, especially if you are someone who has been buying, managing, or using mobility solutions in clinical environments for the past five-plus years. “Mobility has already become table stakes,” you might say, before reminding me that automation or locationing are the biggest technology trends in healthcare this year. Technically, you would be right but so would I.

Mobile technologies have been prevalent in certain clinical workflows for several years now, including specimen collection and medication administration, but they have not been prolific across all healthcare workflows. Nor have all mobile technologies deployed to date met the healthcare community’s high standards for reliability, privacy, security, connectivity, and interoperability. Those few reasons alone have been enough for hospital executives to reevaluate what “clinical mobility” really means and the types of technologies required to meet functional requirements. However, their forward-looking ambitions are compelling the definition and demands of clinical mobility to evolve even more in 2022, and that is driving hospital-wide investments in new mobility hardware, software, and services.

Clinical Mobility, Then and Now

Five years ago, hospital executives and other healthcare community leaders were just doing what they could to get a mobile device in the hands of every care team member. There was an urgency to digitize data so it could become more widely accessible, and old-school pagers were becoming obsolete. There were also new patient safety goals being set by industry bodies.

Yet, decision-makers weren’t really thinking about workflow automation yet. Nor was the healthcare community’s digital transformation vision clear. It was a time of exploration, if you will. So, many organizations leaned into “

” (BYOD) policies and piecemealed together software and systems to help support clinicians. A few tested out true clinical mobility solutions, but most were just testing the waters with mobility on a broad scale. Bedside nurses, doctors, and lab technicians were among the earliest adopters of mobile technology, though it wasn’t unheard of for pharmacy staff and intensive care unit nurses to be connected to healthcare information systems and workflow applications via personal or employer-issued mobile devices.

To be honest, it felt like we were swimming upstream at times when trying to build the business case for clinical mobility solutions that accounted for healthcare’s specific durability, security, privacy and connectivity needs. At first, BYOD just seemed like the more cost-effective and efficient way to mobilize the workforce. But the complexity of maintaining a secure data environment and managing software applications across so many different operating systems and device models soured many people’s views of mobility solutions.

Today, we’re in a different boat, though. The pitfalls of BYOD are now steering people directly toward clinical mobility solutions that have been purpose-built for healthcare use.

Nearly half (49%) of the executives surveyed in Zebra’s Hospital Vision Study in late 2021 said they were already providing employees with hospital-owned devices intended for healthcare applications and environments. Another 32% intend to get true clinical mobility solutions in the hands of their staff by the end of this year. That means eight-in-10 hospital leaders now see the value of mobility and, more specifically, clinical mobility.

The Current Motivations Behind Clinical Mobility Investments

There are many reasons why we’re seeing this shift in mobility strategies. The pandemic is certainly one. The entire healthcare community has become concerned about – and committed to – preventing the spread of infection amid the emergence of COVID-19. So, we’ve seen growing preference for devices that can tolerate the intensity and frequency of sanitation required. This is something that clearly sets clinical smartphones apart from consumer smartphones. But the pandemic’s influence is also centered on stress – the stress placed on workers and on the technologies they now use day in and day out.

The goal is to give each worker the right mobile device and software for their role so they can quickly locate and connect with the people, information, and equipment needed to get patients the right care at the right time. However, it’s just as important that the devices be secure, rugged, and easy to manage remotely. As the rate of data digitization and workflow digitalization increases, so does the need to prevent data breaches and device failures. If a single device goes offline or fails to connect to information systems, communications can breakdown and attempts to find workarounds can become a distraction. So, hospital executives are looking for technologies that can provide workflow continuity and, to a certain degree, better continuity of care for patients.

In fact, most executives (87%) and clinicians (80%) who responded to the Zebra study agreed the quality of patient care would improve if nurses, physicians, and non-clinical staff had access to collaboration tools and healthcare applications. And more hospital leaders intend to make the transition to clinical mobility solutions now that early adopters have confirmed they effectively increase medical workflow accuracy and precision (85%), reduce preventable medical errors (84%) and boost the accuracy of supplies tracking and inventory management (82%). They want to improve the patient experience while simultaneously reducing costs, and anything that helps improve workflow orchestration and supply chain management will support both of those objectives.

But there’s another human factor at play here too: the need to “be here now.”

Clinicians and support staff need to be more available to patients, and they want to be more present when they are with patients. Clinical mobility solutions have proven to raise the focus on patient care and attentiveness in many real-world settings. Likewise, some care team members need to be in patient or operating rooms even when they’re physically hundreds of miles away, and clinical mobility solutions can support virtual consults.

They can also facilitate real-time reporting of patient status via multiple communication modes, aid with locating equipment, and ease patient transfers between floors, departments or facilities. It’s also easier for clinicians to positively identify patients in workflows such as barcode medication administration and bedside specimen collection when mobile devices have built-in barcode scanners and a plug-in to data pipelines. They can instantly confirm they’re taking the right action for the right patient without having to stay heads down on the device for minutes at a time – or rushing back to the nurse’s station every time.

Of course, it can be a struggle for healthcare staff to be in the right place at the right time without real-time guidance, so this is another pain point that clinical mobility can address for decision-makers.

They’re planning to implement real-time alerting systems via mobile workforce collaboration and communication tools that can be tailored to healthcare applications and even specific roles and people. And they’ll sync clinical mobility solutions with workflow automation software and locationing systems to make it easier for workers to know where they need to go next and what they need to do or grab when they get there.

Again, the goal is to make it easier for staff to focus on the task at hand, so they can get through long days with less stress. Though clinicians may be pulled in multiple directions at once, and overall caseloads may feel unmanageable, they’ll have the tools they need to flow from one place to the next with clear direction – and that can help put everyone at ease, including patients.

The IT Factor

As dependency on mobile technologies grows, so does the need for IT to keep everything up and running properly. When there are thousands of mobile computers deployed across dozens of buildings, and even more supporting interconnected components to consider, it’s critical to simplify solution deployment and management when you can. With clinical mobility solutions, hardware and software components can be configured, secured, and managed remotely, and everything from battery performance to wireless network connectivity can be proactively monitored.

So, decision-makers aren’t just thinking about the front-line end users when committing to a new mobility strategy. They’re thinking about all the effort it takes by the IT teams behind the scenes to manage the technology. That, to me, says a lot about the value of purpose-built, enterprise-grade clinical mobility solutions. If they think it’s less of a burden to rip and replace old devices and systems than it is to maintain the status quo with BYOD models, then the variation in manageability of consumer and enterprise devices becomes apparent. Plus, once clinical mobility solutions are deployed, many of the IT management requirements can be automated and workflow expansion becomes as simple as a few software updates – even when new hardware “buttons” are needed.

In other words, don’t underestimate the impact that clinical mobility solutions are having on healthcare’s modernization efforts or the influence they will have on the healthcare experience in the future. We’re already seeing how fundamental they are to workflow automation, operational orchestration, and supply chain management as well as the bolstering of people’s overall well-being.

To learn more about the capabilities of today’s clinical mobility solutions, click here.