Hospitals boost efforts to set rules for mobile devices

Smartphone use by clinicians has risen dramatically in the last two years within hospitals, and more facilities have developed mobile device management strategies to cope.

Organizations with a documented mobility strategy have nearly doubled, and in-house use of pagers has increased slightly during the past two years, show results of a recent survey. 

The increased use of pagers augments the growing use of smartphones that are either personal devices or supplied by the hospital, according to the fifth annual survey on healthcare mobile health strategies in hospitals by Spok, a vendor that offers mobile secure messaging services.

While there’s been increased industry discussion of policies needed for clinicians that want to bring and use their own communication devices, many so-called BYOD policies weren’t necessary, as a strategy as clinicians using their personal smartphones just happened and strategy development came later, says Brian Edds, vice president of product strategy at Spok.

Smartphone use, particularly by physicians in the past two years, has risen to such an extent that providers have needed to develop a strategy to support them in a secure manner. “The smartphone is great for everyday secure, two-way and traceable communication,” Edds notes. The phones are prevalent among doctors, with about 90 percent using them. The numbers dip to 50 percent or less for nurses and staff.

Pagers, which have been around for a long time, remain a viable tool because they are cost-effective and reliable when Wi-Fi and cellular systems go down, he adds.

Overall, hospitals with a documented mobile device strategy have nearly doubled since 2012, hitting 63 percent this year. Spok’s fifth survey was conducted in July 2016 and includes responses from about 550 hospitals.

A surprise—and concern—in survey results is that while mobile strategies increased 20 percent in the past two years, deployment of mobile device management technologies stayed flat. Doubts about mobile device management, particularly Big Brother concerns, could be a factor, Edds believes.

“Doctors don’t like MDM on personal devices but accept it on corporate devices. With a personal device, there is some expected degree of privacy,” he contends.

While use of mobile devices proliferates in hospitals, the supporting infrastructure is still lacking, according to survey results. Some 83 percent said their Wi-Fi network is considered business critical, yet 54 percent said coverage is challenging.

“It appears that a lot of hospitals are still working out the logistics of effective coverage,” according to the survey report. “This physical element of a communications infrastructure is important to get right because if you don’t build it, they won’t come.”

Further, if the hospital doesn’t support good mobile communication, “providers will find their own workarounds that put the hospital at risk, especially when it comes to sharing protected health information via unsecure texting,” the report states.

Survey results also show that clinicians have become significantly more involved in developing mobile strategies since 2014, with physician involvement up by one-third and nurse leadership up 70 percent. 

When asked which types of mobile devices are used in hospitals, respondents show limit use of voice badges (20 percent) and wearables (8 percent). The leading devices are smartphones (78 percent), in-house pagers (71 percent), Wi-Fi phones (69 percent), wide-area pagers (57 percent) and tablets (52 percent).

Tablet use actually declined slightly this year compare with 2015, which survey report authors attribute to shifts in user preferences. “Smartphones are available with bigger screens for easily visibility, but they still fit in a coat pocket and support phone calls,” the report notes.

Hospitals without a mobile strategy gave a variety of reasons, which included being in the process of developing a strategy (31 percent), not knowing why there is no strategy (30 percent), the presence of a verbal but not yet documented strategy (17 percent) and budget constraints (15 percent).

With data breaches increasing and more aggressive enforcement of HIPAA privacy and security rules, data security of bring-your-own-device programs remains challenging. Some 80 percent of responding hospitals that don’t permit BYOD cite data security as the reason.

Overall, large percentages of responding hospitals have goals to improve communications among clinicians and patients, as well as improving critical test results management, ER and bed turnover, nurse call and patient monitoring alerts to mobile devices, and alarm fatigue. The survey is available here.