Guest Column | April 11, 2014

Healthcare Mobility: Rugged Or Commercial Devices?

Rugged Healthcare Device

By Doug Brown, Vertical Marketing Manager, Honeywell Scanning & Mobility

The average acute care hospital environment is typically one of the tougher settings for any handheld mobile solution to thrive and survive.  There are generally hard floors throughout, so any accidental drop is going to be met with the maximum impact. Add that to the use of aggressive disinfecting chemicals that are required to maintain a safe working atmosphere for patients and clinicians and you will likely find that most unprotected commercial devices will fail much earlier than expected. 

While rugged devices by definition were designed to survive the extreme conditions typical in warehouses or on delivery trucks, it is only recently that the combination of rugged features with hospital grade disinfectant chemical resistance came together. These early healthcare-ready rugged devices are surviving well in the hospital environment but are clearly not as ergonomic or user friendly as smartphones. So an obvious question is — can hospitals have the best of both worlds, the enormous flexibility of a smartphone and the ruggedness required in a healthcare setting?

One approach proposed by BYOD champions is to encase commercial smartphones in a rugged outer shell which protects the phone from drops and even some liquids. As the majority of these protective shells were designed for general consumer use, you will need to see if the one you are considering was tested to withstand the chemicals in use in hospitals. In addition, a smooth outer shell design is important so there are no deep crevices to trap germs. Another feature to look for is a shell equipped with its own hot swappable battery to augment the battery life of the smartphone. Hospital shifts are long and can easily outlast a typical smartphone charge when the phone is used continuously as a handheld mobile computer.

The true hybrid healthcare rugged shell products just arriving have all the features mentioned above and add the key feature of high performance barcode scanning. While those considering BYOD hope that using the smartphone camera will suffice as an adequate barcode reading device, most hospitals will find the camera is simply slower than expected and difficult to aim. Finding a device equipped with an integrated scan engine is critical.

One even newer class of hybrid devices emerging for healthcare applications is a purpose built nursing smartphone — or a “converged device.” They look like smartphones, run all the popular smartphone applications, and are built from the ground up to survive continuous cleanings, drops, and shift changes.  With long battery life, fast barcode scanning, and hospital grade ruggedness combined with everything we all love about our smartphones user interface,  it is easy to see that clinicians are finally getting the features they have been asking for in a mobile device. A search for healthcare converged devices should help you find these latest new offerings.