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Hospital Mobile Strategy Still In Flux

Posted on January 8, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The following is a look at how hospitals’ use of communication devices has changed since 2011, and what the patterns are now.  You might be surprised to read some of these data points since in some cases they defy conventional wisdom.

The researchers behind the study, communications tech provider Spok, Inc. surveyed about 300 healthcare professionals this year, and have tracked such issues since 2011. The report captures data on the major transitions in hospital mobile communications that have taken place since then.

For example, the report noted that in 2011, 84% of staffers received job-related alerts on pagers. Sixty-two percent are using wireless in-house phones, 61% desk phones, 77% email on their computers, 44% cell phones and 5% other devices.

Since then, mobile device usage in hospitals has changed significantly. For example, 77% of respondents said that their hospital supports smartphone use. The popularity of some devices has come and gone over time, including tablets and Wi-Fi phones (which are nonetheless used by 63% of facilities).

Perhaps the reason this popularity has risen and fallen is that hospitals are still finding it tricky to support mobile devices. The issues include supporting needed infrastructure for Wi-Fi coverage (45%), managing cellular coverage infrastructure (30%), maintaining data security (31%) and offering IT support for users (about 30%). Only 11% of respondents said they were not facing any of these concerns at present.

When the researchers asked the survey panel which channels were best for sharing clinical information in a hospital, not all cited contemporary mobile devices. Yes, smartphones did get the highest reliability rating, at 3.66 out of five points, but pagers, including encrypted pagers, were in second place with a rating of 3.20. Overhead announcements came in third at 2.91 and EHR apps at 2.39.

The data on hospitals and BYOD policies seemed counterintuitive as well. According to Spok, 88% of facilities supported some form of BYOD in 2014, or in other words, roughly 9 out of 10.  That percentage has fallen drastically, however, BYOD support hitting 59% this year.

Not surprisingly, clinicians are getting the most leeway when it comes to using their own devices on campus. In 2017, 90% of respondents said they allowed their clinicians to bring their own devices with them. Another 69% supported BYOD for administrators, 57% for nurses and 56% for IT staffers. Clearly, hospital leaders aren’t thrilled about supporting mobility unless it keeps clinical staff aligned with the facility.

To control this cacophony of devices, 30% said they were using enterprise mobility management solutions, 40% said they were evaluating such solutions and 30% said they had no plans to do so. Apparently, despite some changes in the devices being used, hospitals still aren’t sure who should have mobile tools, how to support them and what infrastructure they need to keep those devices lit up and useful.

Mobility Strategy Becoming More Important To Hospitals

Posted on October 7, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

An annual study of healthcare mobility has found that hospitals may be at a tipping point when it comes to mobile strategy. The study also suggests that hospitals are struggling with Wi-Fi coverage and BYOD issues, but when you add on the fact that mobile EHR access is maturing, you still have a picture in which mobile is playing a rapidly-expanding role.

Spok’s fifth-annual Mobility in Healthcare Survey, which gathered 550 responses in July of this year, found that the number of hospitals reporting having a documented mobility strategy has almost doubled since year one. Specifically, 63% of respondents said that they had a documented strategy in place, a huge shift from 2012, when only 34% of respondents had such a strategy.

Another interesting piece of data derived from the study is that the roles of those involved in forming mobile strategy have shifted meaningfully between 2014 and 2016.

For example, the number of respondents saying IT helped or would help drive mobile strategy changes fell 12 points, while those who said nurses were involved climbed 12 points. The number of respondents said doctors and consultants were involved climbed 9 points, and clinical leadership eight points. The greatest change was the role of nurses, whose current or planned involvement climbed 69% in absolute terms.

Mobile strategies emerging
When respondents that did not have a documented mobile strategy in place were asked why, 31% told Spok that they were in the process of developing such a strategy, 30% didn’t know, 17% said they had a verbal strategy in place which had not been written down or documented and 15% said budget constraints were holding them back.

Another notable set of data collected by Spok focused on which devices the respondent’s hospital was supporting. The fact that 78% percent supported smartphones was no big surprise, but it was a bit unexpected to find that 71% of hospital respondents support in-house pages. (I guess they’re like faxes — some technologies just won’t die!) Wi-Fi phones were supported by 69% of respondents, wide area pagers 57%, tablets 52%, voice badges 20% and smart watches/wearables 8%.

Meanwhile, among the key shifts in support for devices is that Wi-Fi phone and voice badge support were up 24% and 18% respectively in absolute terms. It’s also worth noting that support for smart watches/wearables has climbed to 8% near zero just last year. Clearly these are categories to watch.

Wi-Fi, BYOD challenges
As part of the support discussion, respondents also answered questions about Wi-Fi coverage, and the results highlighted some serious issues. In particular, while 83% of respondents said that their Wi-Fi connection is business-critical, they didn’t seem to feel in complete control of it.

More than half (54%) of respondents said they saw Wi-Fi coverage as a challenge, and 65% said they believed that there were some areas of poor coverage within their hospital. Other mobile device support challenges cited by respondents include data security (43%), user compliance with mobility, BYOD and EMM policies and procedures (39%) and IT support for users (37%).

Meanwhile, BYOD support and policies continue to be a contentious issue for hospitals. Nineteen percent of survey respondents said that their organizations hadn’t created any sort of BYOD program, an 8-point drop from 2015. The proportion of facilities with some type of a BYOD program also fell, from 73% to 58%, though – exercising survey options available for the first time – 5% said they were planning for BYOD and 18% said they didn’t know what was up on this front.

When asked why they chose to allow BYOD programs to exist, 60% of respondents said cost savings was a factor, 50% care team communication, and 46% said both physician demand and workflow time savings for users were important reasons. On the flip side, eighty-one percent of respondents said security issues were the primary reason they didn’t allow BYOD.

Thoughts On Hospital Telecommunications Infrastructure

Posted on August 31, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Given the prevalence of broadband telecom networks in place today, hospital IT leaders may feel secure – that their networks can handle whatever demands are thrown at them. But given the progress of new health IT initiatives and data use, they still might face bandwidth problems. And as healthcare technical architect Lanny Hart notes in a piece for SearchHealthIT, the networks need to accommodate new security demands as well.

These days, he notes healthcare networks must carry not only more-established data and voice data, but also growing volumes of EMR traffic. Not only that, hospital IT execs need to plan for connected device traffic and patient/visitor access to Wi-Fi, along with protecting the network from increasingly sophisticated data thieves hungry for health data.

So what’s a healthcare CIO to do when thinking about building out hospital telecommunications infrastructure?  Here’s some of Hart’s suggestions:

  • When building your network, keep cybersecurity at the top of your priorities, whether you handle it at the network layer or on applications layered over the network.
  • Use an efficient network topology. At most, create a hub-and-spoke design rather than a daisy chain of linked sub-networks and switches.
  • Avoid establishing a single point of failure for networks. Use two separate runs of fiber or cable from the network’s edge switches to ensure redundancy and increase uptime.
  • Use virtual local area networks for PACS and for separate hospital departments.
  • Segment access to your virtual networks – including your guest Wi-Fi service – allowing only authorized users to access individual networks.
  • Build as much wireless network connectivity into new hospital construction, and blend wireless and wired networks when you upgrade networks in older buildings.
  • When planning network infrastructure, bear in mind that hospital networks can’t be completely wireless yet, because big hardware devices like CT scans and MRIs can’t run off of wireless connections.
  • Bigger hospitals that use real-time location services should factor that traffic in when planning network capacity.

In addition to all of these considerations, I’d argue that hospital network planners need to keep a close eye on changes in network usage that affect where demand is going. For example, consider the ongoing shift from desktop computers to mobile devices use of cellular networks have on network bandwidth requirements.

If physicians and other clinical staffers are using cell connections to roam, they’re probably transferring large files and perhaps using video as well. (Of course, their video use is likely to increase as telemedicine rollouts move ahead.)

If you’re paying for those connections, why not evaluate whether there’s ways you could save by extending Internet connectivity? After all, closing gaps in your wireless network could both improve your clinicians’ mobile experience and help you understand how they work. It never hurts to know where the data is headed!