Access to patient information at the point of care isn't just a priority for doctors. Nurses are embracing mobile tools, too, often using their own smartphones for access to patient information.
In fact, 69 percent of US hospital nurses surveyed say that they and their colleagues are using personal smartphones while on the job for both personal and clinical communications, according to the Spyglass Consulting Group report, "Point of Care Computing for Nursing 2012."
The report is based on more than 100 in-depth interviews with nurses working in acute care environments nationwide. Respondents were deemed technically competent and representative of a broad range of nursing specialties and institution size.
Nurses surveyed say they are opting for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) at the point of care because these devices enable them to fill in critical communication gaps with existing technologies provided by hospital IT. Nurses find the IT-provided tools have limited functionality and are difficult to use, according to the Spyglass report.
Also notable is that nurses prefer smartphones to tablets as their mobile devices of choice at the point of care. In fact, 96 percent of respondents found that first-generation tablets are not useful for bedside nursing. Tablets lack native applications, are not durable, and offer limited data entry, according to respondents.
According to the report, hospital IT teams are none too happy about this trend. Greg Malkary, Managing Director of Spyglass Consulting Group, noted in a prepared statement:
Hospital IT is concerned that personal devices on the hospital's network pose a significant security threat to patient health information stored on the devices or the network. Supporting nurses' bring-your-own-device initiatives would require hospital IT staff to define comprehensive mobile governance strategies and to deploy enterprise-class tools to centrally monitor, manage and protect mobile devices, apps and data.
Meanwhile, nurses aren't waiting on IT to sort things out.
As with BYOD trends in all enterprises, mobile solutions in healthcare are seen as major productivity and customer service boosters. Using mobility at the point of care is believed to streamline productivity, enhance patient safety, and reduce the risk of medical errors, according to the report.
Nurses also have their own list of complaints when it comes to using mobility in hospitals. An even quarter of survey respondents said they are dissatisfied with the quality and reliability of the wireless networks supporting their facilities. The consensus from the report is that hospital IT must improve the reliability and scalability of the wireless infrastructure to support an increasing number of wireless users, devices, and applications required at the point of care.
What are the options for hospital IT teams? Here are some suggestions:
- Shadow your nursing staff and watch how they're using their wireless devices.
- Note the level of care (or lack thereof) with which they protect their devices and the information on them.
- Remember that your nursing staff is already conscious of patient confidentiality and will likely apply the same care to information whether it's on a mobile device or on a printed page.
- Examine potential areas of exposure by watching the nurses in action and assessing the weak points.
- Ask for specifics on how having the mobile device at the point of care made the nurse better equipped to provide quality care and improve outcome. Learn from these examples.
- Approach the challenge from a support-and-management perspective, rather than a command-and-control perspective.
- Consider who on your team needs to be involved in developing a sensible way to enable nurses to use their own devices at the point of care -- this could include database managers, network architects, security teams, and compliance officers.
- Don't try to boil the ocean. Start with the application that you've observed your nurses using the most, and go from there.
Some hospital CIOs are embracing these changes, as E2 managing editor David Wagner reports in his blog, The Challenges of Healthcare Are Personal. In reporting on the progress made by Stephanie Reel, CIO of Johns Hopkins University, Wagner reports that one new hospital building opened by the organization earlier this year serves 500 patients and is "safe, smart, paperless, wireless, filmless all on day 1."
Of course, accomplishing these goals in a new building is a far different experience than retrofitting an existing infrastructure to accommodate new technology demands. In the heavily regulated healthcare industry, who can blame IT for being gun-shy about BYOD trends? Of course, this tension is not unique to healthcare. A recent E2 radio show, Mobile Security: Balancing Freedom & Defense, provides some real-world guidance on how to deal with these challenges.
The bottom line? The onus for making this work in hospitals falls squarely on the shoulders of healthcare IT. The BYOD movement is like a boulder rolling down a hill. It's unstoppable. The only option for healthcare CIOs now is to figure out how to manage it in a way that does not endanger patient information, while ensuring that security restrictions do not end up endangering the patients themselves.