Healthcare providers are using their smartphones for communication, but not for a growing variety of other mHealth capabilities.

The culprit of this unrealized potential, according to recent report, is a lack of integration. Institutions are either using older devices that can’t integrate with mobile health platforms, or the platforms themselves aren’t fitting provider workflows.

The report is based on a survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics and PatientSafe Solutions in November 2017. The organizations asked 302 respondents in clinical, IT and informatics roles about the state of clinical mobile communications practices at their hospital.

Still mostly messaging

Over three-quarters of respondents said the primary use of their clinical communication platform is for HIPAA-compliant secure messaging.

A smaller number mentioned consolidating messaging services; delivering critical results/alerts; mobile access to patient data; mobile clinical workflow management and documentation; communication with patients and their families; and assignment management.

As Joyce Sensmeier, Vice President of Informatics for HIMSS, summarizes, “It looks like the primary use of mobile clinical communications solutions today is texting and other forms of communications, versus leveraging ‘smart’ capabilities — like easier access to patient data, that are available today.”

Integrating workflow and communication

However, 77 percent of survey respondents said they want their clinical communications solutions to integrate with workflow management and documentation. This means using devices and apps that can perform a range of diverse functions – from communication to care coordination and accessing patient data.

On the bright side, over half of the surveyed hospitals already plan to expand the functionality of their secure messaging platforms. By consolidating communication and clinical workflow in to one application, hospitals can reduce time spent on care coordination so that there’s more time for direct patient care.

Moving toward smartphones

The survey also found that the healthcare industry is still in the process of replacing pagers and legacy wireless handsets with smartphones.

This juggling of multiple devices and opening numerous independent apps bogs down workflows.”

At most hospitals methods and means of communication remain fragmented. Different clinical users – like nurses, physicians, pharmacists or case managers – are each spread between several devices, including smartphones, pagers, communication badges and mobile handsets, which facilitate different forms of secured and unsecured messaging.

As the report synthesizes, “This juggling of multiple devices and opening numerous independent apps bogs down workflows.”

What providers want is a single platform that accomplishes all or many of these tasks. Smartphones are the obvious candidate given their ubiquity in the consumer space and falling prices. Importantly, they can also support the right types of clinical documentation and workflow apps that physicians are ready for. 

However, just 47 percent of respondents said smartphones are deployed as a communications strategy across their institutions.

As more hospitals adopt smartphone-based communications solutions, it will be easier to integrate clinical systems like care team directories, on-call schedules, EMR data and telemetry alerts.

This more robust mobile offering – geared toward clinicians – will fulfill the vision of a more productive, efficient and coordinated healthcare team.