The still-emerging capabilities of today’s technologies go far beyond phone calls, messaging and email. Mobile communication now enables quick access to: EMR systems, medical apps, on-call scheduling, directories, messaging, “contact me” preferences, medical devices and critical test results.

Smartphones aside, there are many other types of devices being used in hospitals today. Tablets, Wi-Fi phones, voice badges, pagers, desk phones and more – every role seems to have a different type of device. Without flexible, easy-to-use management solutions, new technologies will lead to mayhem. Thankfully, there are solutions available to aggregate all the systems an organization can assemble for better healthcare and then deliver information quickly, accurately and securely to the right person on the device he or she has chosen.

There are two big challenges with this:

  1. Managing security across the healthcare enterprise; and
  2. Providing an audit trail to show how communications related to a patient’s care or an organization’s response to medical alerts are managed.

Secure communications are an absolute requirement. A recent Ponemon Institute study found a 32 percent increase in the frequency of data breaches in hospitals surveyed. Surprisingly, only half of those surveyed took measures to secure protected health information on mobile devices. The study reports an estimated average cost of $2.4 million per data breach. It’s not a simple issue: The transmission of messages must be secure, and the information must remain safe once it’s on the device.

With few exceptions, the communication devices themselves don’t have built-in security; it’s left to organizations to ensure protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) in accordance with guidelines from HIPAA and the HITECH Act. This includes a variety of security features, including encryption, application lock, automated message removal and password-protected inboxes. Administrators should also be able to complete a remote device wipe to remove messages from a device that has been lost or stolen.

Audit trails and traceability are key attributes of a robust mobile communications solution; regulatory requirements call for the ability to trace the entire chain of messages related to a specific case or incident. A 2010 study determined that $91 million in malpractice awards that year were due to failure of physicians and patients to receive results, delays in report findings and lengthy turnaround times.

With leading solutions, a delivery receipt is sent back to the sender as soon as a message arrives. Recipients then have the ability to actively acknowledge or ignore the message, which is also transmitted back to the sender. In addition to acknowledgement, users can respond to a message using free-form text or templates. Responses are kept with the original message in system log files for continuity purposes. Administrators also need a full audit trail, including the ability to run reports on the timing of message delivery and how quickly receipts were returned from each user. This ensures messages are read in a timely fashion.

When planning your mobile communications strategy, here are some top considerations:

  • The system should be able to separate critical healthcare messages from less important emails and text messages.
  • It should provide secure delivery of messages to encrypted inboxes, as well as remote lockout and erasure of information.
  • Automatic delivery receipts for messages should be part of any system; these enable accurate recordkeeping or even escalation of alerts to manage delivery of urgent communications.
  • It should provide the ability for quick, active acknowledgement of message receipt and free-form text responses, as well as template replies.
  • The solution should connect to many different systems in the organization, such as directories, on-call scheduling, clinical alerts, critical test results and other alarms.
  • An intuitive, easy-to-use solution will allow for widespread adoption and broader impact.
  • It should leverage cellular as well as Wi-Fi networks and support a variety of devices to accommodate hospital-employed and independent physicians or specialists.

An effective mobile strategy that includes robust security and audit-trail capabilities can improve staff workflow, enhance productivity and improve patient care and safety.

About the author

Colin Balmforth is president, Amcom Software. For more on Amcom Software, click here.

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