Best practices for integrating mobile technology into existing hospital workflows.

It’s no secret that the health information technology (HIT) sector is booming. Industry analysts predict that by the year 2013, revenues will approach $38 billion. Now more than ever, hospitals and health systems both large and small are placing a high priority on expanding their IT systems, and health IT directors want to know more about the value of adding mobile technology (e.g., tablets, PDAs and smartphones) to their current systems. They want to better understand how these devices can enhance the quality of healthcare while increasing efficiencies and reducing costs.

Over the past few years, the term “mobile” has become synonymous with “handheld,” which primarily consists of devices for physicians and providers, while mobile computing devices for bedside clinicians, such as nurses, are typically only computing or medication carts. The different models have developed because providers are focused on data consumption, while bedside clinicians are responsible for the majority of the data entry.  

Despite the differences in how the two groups use the devices, mobile technology is gaining wider acceptance because it is having a positive impact on healthcare. In December 2011, the HIMSS inaugural “Mobile Technology Survey” showed that 38 percent of healthcare facilities reported already using handheld devices. Another 51 percent were in the process of developing a mobile technology policy.

This is good news, because it means the vast majority of IT leaders are largely onboard with the idea of bringing mobile technology to their hospitals and health systems. With that said, it is important for organizations looking to deploy mobile technology to have a solid plan for choosing solutions that will integrate seamlessly into existing workflows and patient-care processes.

Four key steps

After leadership support has been obtained, the next big piece for completing the mobile technology integration puzzle is project planning. To achieve the best outcome, there are four steps all project leaders should consider, no matter the size of their organizations:

  • Step 1: Share information among cross-functional teams;
  • Step 2: Conduct a technology and security needs assessment;
  • Step 3: Initiate vendor selection, project road mapping and implementation; and
  • Step 4: Develop maintenance, contingency and documentation plans.

Collectively, these key steps are generally viewed as best practices within the industry for successfully integrating mobile technology into any current workflow.

Step 1: Share information among cross-functional teams

The project team will first want to develop a comprehensive plan that is compatible with the business requirements of the organization, as well as the specific clinical requirements of end users. There must be an understanding among all the players about each group’s particular needs and objectives for the project. A clear and honest exchange of information across functional teams will go a long way toward accomplishing this understanding.

Gathering this information also will help project leaders connect the dots between mission-critical technology requirements and real-world clinical-use cases. In other words, what the IT department considers good technology may not be considered great by nurses working in the ICU.  Project leaders should also reach out to early adopters of mobile technology – including facilities that have already made this journey – who can provide useful “lessons-learned” insight.

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Step 2: Conduct a technology and security needs assessment

After the designated cross-functional teams have had their say, the project team should then conduct a thorough assessment of their organization’s current IT systems to identify any technical issues that could impact the implementation of mobile devices, including any projects that are currently on the roadmap. This information will provide an outline for what the chosen mobile technology should look like.

After the assessment is finished, the project team can begin drafting a requirements document that should take into account the future technology needs of their organizations. An extremely important step is to categorize requirements into “needs” and “wants” to ensure the selected product meets the organization’s goals.

Compliance with HIPAA and the HITECH Act come with the territory for healthcare IT departments. Securing protected health information (PHI) from unauthorized access ranks high on the priority list. Although there are several characteristics of mobile technology that make security more challenging, there are several ways to address the potential risks, including ongoing training, equipment lockdown when not in use, advanced password protection, firewalls, wireless network encryption and contingency plans for lost or stolen devices. Of course, ongoing maintenance of the mobile technology solution after launch will require making firmware upgrades, installing software patches and updating virus/malware definitions.

Step 3: Initiate vendor selection, project road mapping and solution launch

A healthcare organization’s mobile technology solution will only be as successful as the vendor chosen to deploy it. After completing the first two key steps, project leaders will be armed with the information necessary for researching and hiring the best vendor.

A prospective vendor’s track record in health IT implementation and its customer references are two compelling differentiators that should be taken into consideration. Limiting choices to the top two or three solution providers will prevent the decision-making process from becoming bogged down.

The final project road map should provide a detailed account of every step in the implementation process – from project development to deployment. The design of an in-house training program that includes the distribution of instructional manuals and videos will also be essential for teaching clinicians and other end users how to properly use the mobile technology solution. A multi-phased approach may best ensure that operational dependencies can be met and adequate resources are available.

Step 4: Develop maintenance, contingency and documentation plans

The final step to a smooth mobile technology deployment is the creation of a maintenance plan. Although often overlooked, this step helps organizations avoid unnecessary device downtime. Even technology with the best design and manufacturing can break, but having a contingency plan will ensure there are backups for devices that perform crucial patient-care functions. It is also necessary to maintain detailed documentation of policies and procedures that can serve as a reference guide for the healthcare IT department as technical issues arise. In addition, ensure that service-level agreements around maintenance are part of the original requirements documentation.

Achieving a smooth integration

An ever-growing number of physicians, nurses and other clinicians view mobile and handheld devices as a way to become even more efficient in their duties, with the added benefit of improving the quality of healthcare delivered. Wisely, hospitals and other medical facilities are ramping up their technology plans and establishing policies to keep pace with this trend. By following these four key steps, healthcare organizations will be in the best possible position to deploy mobile technology solutions that integrate seamlessly into their existing workflows and patient-care processes. 

About the author

Cheryl D. Parker, Ph.D., RN-BC, FHIMSS, is chief nursing informatics officer for Rubbermaid Medical Solutions and is a contributing MSN instructor for Walden University. For more on Rubbermaid Medical Solutions, click here.

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