Guest Column | April 16, 2014

4 Reasons Healthcare Facilities Need New Wireless Applications

New Wireless Applications In Healthcare

By Phillip Haritos, senior manager of healthcare solutions, Motorola Solutions

Generally speaking, healthcare has been a laggard in the adoption of mobile wireless technologies compared to other industries such as retail and hospitality. But with the introduction of smaller devices, smartphones, and tablets, the need for increased mobility in hospitals has accelerated dramatically in the past few years. However, unlike those other vertical markets, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in healthcare is less of an issue with clinical and ancillary users as their devices are typically facility-owned and managed for shift use. The exception is physicians, who are typically independent of the hospitals and carry their own devices for clinical collaboration, but the need to wirelessly converge communications, secure patient data, and manage those personal devices still exists. 

Following are four reasons why now is the right time to implement new wireless mobility applications in hospitals.

  1. Optimized Caregiver Workflow

The primary goal of any healthcare technology implementation should be to optimize the workflow efficiency of the clinical and ancillary staff. Nurses will generally spend between 30 and 40 percent of their 12 hour shift working on activities that could be automated or reallocated to a different resource. Wireless mobility can be the key to optimizing workflow, assuming certain objectives set by different departments can be met based on use case and specific workflow requirements. For example, in an ICU setting, the objectives could be to increase caregiver time at the bedside, improve the efficiency of patient-centered processes and align clinical team cohesiveness. These can be achieved with converged or optimized wireless communications, which could include voice, patient/nurse alerts and staff communications.  Another example could involve automating bedside infusion therapy via smart IV pumps that are wirelessly-enabled via embedded Wi-Fi radio technologies such as those made by CareFusion-Alaris. When the pump is Wi-Fi-enabled, the nurse no longer has to manually read the IV order and program the pump. This process can be automated with a few scans allowing the nurse to simply verify the settings and start the flow, resulting in improved caregiver workflow and increased patient safety due to errors that can occur with manual programming.

  1. Patient Safety

In addition to improving workflows, wireless technology can also dramatically increase patient safety.  This could include using technology for verification of the “5 Rights” for medication administration — the right patient, the right medication, the right dose at the right time via the right route. This is typically performed by implementing bar code technology on employee badges, the patient wristbands and on the medications or IV bags administered by the caregiver.  After the data is scanned, it must be verified wirelessly through a mobile workstation or healthcare mobile computer via a robust healthcare-grade wireless LAN (WLAN). As part of the process, it also can alert a caregiver of a potential safety issue such as a wrong dose, a medication interaction alert, allergy or even an expired medication.

  1. Operational Efficiency

Healthcare facilities also need wireless applications to help improve operational efficiency.  Asset management in hospitals applies not only to information technology (IT) but also to biomedical equipment. Knowing where life-critical or patient care items are located is vital to patient safety and can reduce the operating costs of a hospital. These items may include both connected (wirelessly-enabled) and non-connected devices or equipment such as crash carts (for Code Blues), med carts, transport beds, IV pumps, ventilators, wheel chairs, surgical items, workstation-on-wheels (WOW), cardiac monitors, and many other items located through a facility. In fact, not only do biomedical and clinical teams need to locate and account for these assets or items, but in some cases they need to know the condition and when to service them.  This is typically accomplished by using a combination of wireless technologies such as real-time location system (RTLS) over Wi-Fi, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, embedded RFID readers in doorways or supply rooms and soon via low-power Bluetooth technology, which can also be used for locationing, data connectivity to a Wi-Fi backhaul or association (imagine:  Bluetooth talks to an intelligent bed, which is connected to the hospital’s wired or wireless LAN).

  1. Clinical Collaboration

In the modern world, we may think that pagers, two-radios and other legacy technologies are all but extinct. In healthcare, that is typically not the case. There are many caregivers, especially those in emergency departments and critical care units, that could easily pass for superheroes (and they are in their own right for the lives they save) due to the number of devices attached to their waists, body, or pockets. Part of the problem is disjointed and disconnected legacy communication systems. With the right solution, those devices could be dramatically consolidated to improve overall clinical collaboration. Why should a caregiver need to carry a pager, proprietary wireless phone, a smartphone, a voice badge, and in some cases a two-way radio all at the same time?  Paging and alerts can now easily be brought into the Wi-Fi space with solutions from a variety of vendors. Two-way radios, voice badges, and telephony handsets can also be consolidated into one device by bridging the various radio frequencies internally for biomed and emergency department staff as well as the external frequencies from first responders.  With these Wi-Fi-enabled solutions, caregivers can now use a single smartphone and clinical mobile computer to seamlessly communicate across the internal WLAN, regardless of the frequency or system to which the host system is connected. This not only dramatically improves clinical collaboration, but reduces costs and increases system reliability and performance.

These are just a few examples of how wireless technologies can enable hospitals to provide better care, reduce costs, and improve staff efficiency or overall patient satisfaction. When creating a wireless solutions for your healthcare clients, focus not just on the technological objectives, but also the clinical objectives needed to make that implementation successful. Click here to learn how a Toronto-area hospital utilized a WLAN and mobile point of care solution to streamline manual processes, reduce medication errors and increase overall quality of care.