How Smartphones are Empowering Healthcare Workers in Crisis

As the strain on healthcare workers and systems has mounted with the global spread of COVID-19, hospitals have needed to quickly adapt and expand their capabilities. With the increase in patient loads and some hospitals nearing capacity, healthcare facilities need to find effective ways to move patients from admission to testing to isolation zones—all the way to discharge—as efficiently and safely as possible.  Now, more than ever, clinical communication and collaboration is paramount to the success of hospital operations and positive patient outcomes.

Care teams are now expected to do more, faster—without sacrificing quality of care and attention to detail. Hospital staff need to be able to quickly identify, triage, and isolate possible COVID-19 patients. In addition, they must swiftly determine who/what to prioritize, locate people quickly, collaborate more effectively, and reliably close the loop on critical communications to avoid costly errors.

At the center of this healthcare crisis is the need for clear, consistent, and reliable communication, documentation, and notification among care teams. Below we’ll dive into each of these three critical areas where smartphones are helping hospitals react quickly, effectively, and safely to rapidly evolving demands.

1. Communication

With the growth of clinical mobility, there has been improved communication capabilities at the bedside providing caregivers with the right information, about the right patient, at the right time. One of the first priorities of any hospital during the COVID-19 crisis is reducing person-to-person contact to limit the risk of widespread infection. To achieve this, most hospitals have implemented zero-visitor policies across the board (not just COVID-19 patients).  While effective in reducing transmission risk, this strategy places significant emotional and psychological strain on family members who cannot see hospitalized relatives. For these scenarios, a new dynamic we’re seeing are nurses using their mobile devices with a front facing camera to enable communication between patients and their families outside of the hospital. 

Beyond limiting visitors, hospitals are further reducing in-person interactions among staff by leveraging mobile devices to make calls, as well send and receive secure messages between team members instead of meeting in person. In this fast-moving, fluid scenario, reliable communication is critical. Clinical teams must have the ability to quickly call a team member to discuss, share, or confirm information. High-quality voice and a reliable connection are a must to ensure that no time is wasted due to dropped or missed calls and no information is lost due to garbled audio or a spotty connection.

Reliable mobile technologies allow meaningful, actionable information to safely flow between people and systems—and ensures information is received when where and how it’s needed—while keeping the focus on the patient. 

2. Documentation

Another priority in times of crisis is reliable documentation and easy access to patient records. Arming nurses with smartphones enables them to quickly access EHR records and add information like vital signs to the patient’s electronic chart from the patient’s bedside, without having to leave the room to find a computer. Meanwhile, clinicians can use a smartphone with an integrated barcode reader to seamlessly verify and validate patient information for critical tasks like medication administration, specimen collection, blood plasma administration, and more.  For medication administration, clinicians using integrated smartphones like the Spectralink Versity can more easily practice the 5 Rights of medication administration – Right Patient, Right Medication, Right Time, Right Path, and Right Dose.

In addition to documenting quantitative values like patient vital signs, smartphones also allow nurses to capture visual documentation using the camera. Once again, there is no need to leave the room to find a camera to document conditions such as pressure ulcers or other skin conditions. Simply use the integrated camera on the Versity phone, which includes a built-in grid to measure the image for the purpose of capturing and documenting the image.

3. Notification

Finally, smartphones enable clinical teams to improve bed access, capacity, and operational efficiency by providing real-time notification and communication with the patient, the event, and with the care team.  For example, care teams can respond more quickly to meaningful/actionable system alerts and physiologic alarms when the appropriate person is carrying an integrated smart phone, receives the notification, and is able to act on it.

In addition, admissions, transfers and discharges can be executed more smoothly when those involved in the process have access to an integrated mobile device to facilitate patient flow.  Typical users include porters, environmental services, and biomed teams.

Conclusion

As hospitals respond to this unprecedented healthcare crisis, keeping care teams connected and in synch has never been more critical. Whether peer-to-peer, group communication or utilizing telehealth functionality, smartphones are becoming a lifeline to help teams respond to these changes quickly, effectively, and safely.

Bill Foster
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Bill Foster
Bill Foster's responsibilities include the facilitation of strategic business relationships with Spectralink’s key healthcare integrators and alliance partners. Prior to joining Spectralink, Bill served as VP of Sales for Ascom for over a decade. Bill holds a B.A. in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton and is a graduate of the IBM Management School in Armonk, New York. Bill grew up in California but now lives in Austin, TX and is an avid cyclist, scuba diver, and family enthusiast.

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