With healthcare institutions currently being asked to do more with less, aging populations, too few medical professionals to meet market demands and the pressure of meaningful-use mandates for hospitals to adopt EHR systems, healthcare facilities are rapidly making the move from paper charts to digital records.

In fact, in this year alone, the healthcare IT market is projected to reach $78 billion. This includes expenditures on telecom services/equipment, IT personnel, applications/mobile applications, computer hardware, network hardware, and third-party services and outsourcing. By 2016, the HIT market will have reached an estimated $92 billion.

Mobile computing devices are a valuable tool when it comes to creating an efficient HIT system within your healthcare facility, as they offer real-time access to data and the ability to collect, analyze and share patient information at the point of care.

Still, it can be all too easy to choose your mobile solution in a rush – to either comply with government incentive regulations or consumer demands – without thoroughly evaluating your options first. When it comes to deploying an HIT program within your hospital, there are a variety of critical considerations to assess before adopting a new system.

For mobile computers especially, it is impossible to apply a “one-size-fits-all” deployment strategy. Countless enterprise-level mobile computing projects fail because a device was forced in the wrong environment or on the wrong end user. Different healthcare workers have different needs. Healthcare providers should factor in user considerations before selecting devices for deployment. These considerations include device ergonomics, battery life, functionality, durability, portability, ease of sanitization and understanding user workflows.

Taking user workflows into account and being aware of exactly what your physicians and nurses need out of a mobile computing solution is a great first step, and paramount in a healthcare environment – a place where IT must be tailored to the end user. A workflow analysis requires that IT departments involve a broad selection of end users – from physicians to nurses and general hospital staff – during the device evaluation process. End-user feedback must not only be solicited, but used to qualify mobile computing solution options.

Ergonomics is a critical consideration. If a clinician is going to carry a device all day, it needs to be lightweight and easy to hold for long periods of time. Some mobile computing solutions are “hands-free,” with an ergonomic strap and dome hand-support system for comfortable long-term use. When considering any mobile technology, looking at the ergonomics of the design is a key recommendation. 

Hospitals never sleep. Clinicians don’t have time to stop and charge their mobile computers in the midst of patient rounds. Choosing a mobile solution for your staff that has long battery life is essential. A device that comes with hot-swappable battery options – so that doctors and nurses can instantaneously switch a battery with no loss of data while the device is still powered on – is ideal. 

Functionality in general is something to keep in mind. The ideal tablet (convertible or slate) allows clinicians to accomplish as much as possible with a single device. A well-designed, lightweight convertible tablet can serve as both a physician’s desktop computer and a hand-held tablet for rounds and patient interactions. Mobile clinical assistants (MCAs) have integrated features, such as barcode scanners, RFID readers and cameras to improve point-of-care productivity. 

Since hospital equipment must be frequently sanitized, choosing a tablet that can be repeatedly cleaned is another key factor to assess during the device evaluation process. If not properly designed, screen visibility could significantly decrease after repeated sanitization. It’s good to ask what sort of testing has been done in this area, and if the device is IP (ingress protection) rated.

Durability is a chief consideration for mobile computers in healthcare. Fragility is not an option when your work has such critical outcomes. At the end of the day, if a clinician can’t rely on a computer to operate after an inevitable drop or spill, the ability to transform their workflow is significantly reduced.

Choosing a mobile computing device with reliable connectivity is an essential step to take, as a wireless connection helps to drive efficiency and maximize the value of your deployment. Wireless capabilities enable mobile healthcare professionals to access and update medical records in real time, enabling hospital staff to treat and discharge patients quickly and accurately. 

Working with a wireless provider that best fits your facility and your users’ needs is an important step to remember. When looking at a tablet’s connectivity, consider its ability to capture a signal in fringe areas. Or, if you’re using Bluetooth, be sure to compare how far away a device can be without losing a signal. Connectivity testing is simple and often overlooked. It’s common to blame the wireless network when you can’t get a signal; in many cases it’s actually the device that is at fault. Finally, if you are deploying a wireless network you need to work with an integrator that is well versed in dealing with the challenges and intricacies associated with deploying wireless technologies in a hospital environment.

The confidentiality of patient information and data security are crucial in a healthcare environment. Having options – such as fingerprint scanners, smartcard readers and data encryption software paired with BIOS-level security technology, such as Computrace – is critical. If mobile computing devices don’t offer these options, they should, at the very least, comply with the appropriate level of HIPAA compliance.

From ease of sanitization to battery life, each of the features noted is truly an imperative consideration for CIOs and IT departments to keep in mind when evaluating a mobile computing solution.

In healthcare, mobile technology can take efficiency, accuracy and patient care to the next level. But before a healthcare IT department makes a deployment decision, it is essential to step back and thoroughly evaluate available options. The wrong choice can have long-term ramifications for both the quality of patient care and bottom-line performance; after all, in healthcare especially, a mobile technology failure can have serious, real-life consequences.

About the author

Scott Thie is director of healthcare, Panasonic Systems Communications Company. For more on Panasonic, click here.

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