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Mobilizing Nurses: The Heart of Your Hospital

01.27.16 / Sara Jost RN

nurse-patientA recent report by Spyglass Consulting Group found that 69% of nurses are using their personal smartphones at work, yet 95% of those surveyed said that their information technology (IT) departments weren’t willing to support them.

Why are nurses using smartphones? Simple: mobile devices help them do their jobs more efficiently. That’s critical in an environment with escalating costs, resulting layoffs and labor shortages, increasing demands for documentation, inefficient workflows, and legacy systems that haven’t kept pace with technology improvements.

(This article is an excerpt from the BlackBerry® Guide to Mobile Healthcare. Learn more about how to get your free copy at the bottom of this post.)

Administrators and IT departments aren’t just unsupportive; they’re pretending like it isn’t happening at all. That’s not only unreasonable, it’s also:

  • Unfair to expect nurses to use their own phones for work when there’s an accompanying legal burden, and no formal guidelines in place to reimburse them for on-the-job costs, damage, or loss.
  • Inefficient for nurses, doctors, and other medical staff in the clinic or hospital to have to each build their own network by exchanging phone numbers.
  • Irresponsible to lose accountability by not tracking and archiving staff communication or the history of care delivered because there’s no backend support system.
  • Dangerous due to security concerns. If IT doesn’t secure personal smartphones that healthcare staff bring to work, then private medical information is vulnerable, putting the hospital at risk of serious liability and reputational concerns.

If the main goal of a hospital is to provide better patient care, and smartphones help nurses do that, then it’s time for IT and administration to get on board.

Smartphones on the Sly

Nurses care about patients. After a 12-year career as a registered nurse, I know that nurses are going to do whatever they can to provide the best possible care. They are the “MacGyvers” of the healthcare world, improvising with whatever they can find to do what needs to be done.

That’s why the majority of nurses are using their personal smartphones. They’re calling and texting each other, doctors, therapists, and the entire care team where they work. They’re accessing electronic medical reference materials. They’re creating calendar events to remind themselves to give medications to patients or when their patients have tests. They’re creating workarounds to get past inefficient workflows to do more, faster.

nurse-smartphoneIT departments and clinical administrators resist the idea of supporting personal devices for many good reasons. IT is concerned about the auditability and security of personal devices – and rightly so. But this concern is not a reason to ignore the trend. If anything, auditability and security concerns are why they need to implement an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution to secure all the devices on their network and clinical collaboration tools like messaging, voice, video, file, and image sharing.

Many administrators believe it’s their responsibility to provide the technology for work, so they should be the ones choosing the work-supported devices. While that’s definitely an option, the longer that decision process takes, the more personal smartphones will come in under the radar.

Consult Nurses about Technical Investments

Meaningful Use regulations are spurring hospitals and clinics in the U.S. to update their healthcare technology. Our research has shown that 66% of hospitals are making investments to optimize workflow processes to enable patient-centered care. These investments are in workflow optimization (66%), interoperability (49%), medical device integration (26%), and bar coding medicine administration (22%).

As hospitals make these investments, nursing input is critical to success.

First, nurses represent the voice of the patient. They are the ones planning, documenting, communicating, and coordinating patient care; administering medications; educating patients about their medical conditions; and providing advice and emotional support to patients’ family members. Nurses can give you the inside track on the patient’s experience and patient safety.

Second, nurses are the main users of electronic medical records (EMRs). Nurses collect, document, and reference patient history, and vital sign data. In addition, most of the increased documentation requirements (due to Meaningful Use compliance, third-party reimbursement, and protection from litigation) are falling on nurses, forcing them to become “data collectors.” Yet, 44% of nurses interviewed say it’s difficult to integrate images within EMRs, 52% complained their EMR vendors have not invested in speech-enabling their clinical applications, and only 62% believe that the application development tools provided by the EMR vendors are sufficient to support nursing workflow processes and tasks at point of care.

nurses-heart-of-hospitalThird, nurses have a deep understanding of clinical workflows and tasks. For example, our research found that while smartphones do support nursing workflows, tablet computers don’t – at least not yet. First-generation tablets are too big, too heavy, and too fragile. The battery life is too short, there’s no good method for data entry, and there’s a lack of clinical apps. Rather than spending a lot of money on something that won’t get used, healthcare administrators should give nurses a trial run with a few solutions and see what works for them.

Enable the Heart of your Hospital

An IT department that focuses its technical investments on nurses cannot go wrong. Providing nurses with mobile devices has a much bigger return-on-investment potential. There are more nurses: 13 million in North America, and four nurses for every one physician in a typical hospital environment. They are at the center of things: escalating healthcare costs are impacting nursing staff the hardest, because that’s often where hospitals and clinics cut costs.

Increasing documentation requirements also fall on nurses’ shoulders. Our research showed that currently, nurses complete less than 50% of documentation at the bedside. Mobile technologies will help more of it happen in real-time, meaning it can be more comprehensive and accurate than if the documentation is done after the fact at the desktop computer at the central nursing station. It also means nurses would be able to spend more time with their patients and less time sitting behind a desk.

Nurses are already delivering better care through the use of their own smartphones. Instead of pretending they aren’t, IT departments and healthcare administrators need to work with them to re-evaluate workflows, consider new solutions, and make stronger investments in the future of healthcare.

Mobility offers enormous potential for delivering the best quality patient care, but there are a lot of issues to consider in creating a secure mobile healthcare strategy. Our new book, The BlackBerry Guide to Mobile Healthcare, and webinar series help decision makers address some of the key challenges. Click here to get your free copy of The BlackBerry Guide to Mobile Healthcare and visit BlackBerry Enterprise Webcast Central for archived webcasts on Why Home Healthcare Should Go MobileClinical Collaboration and Hospital Staff Coordination and other enterprise topics.

Sara Jost RN

About Sara Jost RN

Sara Joined BlackBerry in 2010 and is the Global Healthcare Industry Lead responsible for healthcare strategy, business development, marketing and sales programs. She has over 14 years of healthcare experience, including Neuroscience Researcher specializing in stroke and migraine at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. She was also a High Risk Labour and Delivery Registered Nurse at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, ON. Sara worked for Healthanywhere, a mHealth start-up, starting and managing 13 mHealth programs across North America and in the UK. Sara has a BScH in Life Sciences from Queen’s University and a BS in Nursing from University of Toronto.