In Healthcare Communications, One Device Does Not Fit All…Yet

Posted by: Kenny Schiff on January 4, 2010

Is Your Hospital Considering a One Communication Device Strategy?

Here are some key points to consider from my recent article in

1. Usability matters. A NICU nurse whose hands are busy diapering a baby has very different needs than someone dispatching code teams, or an anesthesiologist. In pointing out the difference between purpose-built healthcare devices like those from Ascom, Vocera or Cisco (and say a BlackBerry or an iPhone), Emergin often talks about “buttonology.” Visualize code team members fumbling for the Chiclet-sized keys on a BlackBerry Bold when needing to respond to an emergency situation. When seconds matter, better to have a single button push on a Vocera badge, or a simple soft key on an Ascom Medic handset.

2. Where are the applications? Healthcare-specific applications do exist for the BlackBerry, and Palm and Windows mobile smartphones, but they are far from perfect, often without true device/application integration. And mobile healthcare professionals require devices with deeper and tighter integration between hardware and applications.

While software providers like Globestar have smartphone-ready, hospital-friendly applications for alarm notification, escalation and dispatch, they lack tight device integration, making them imperfect. Again, the purpose-built applications, like Ascom phones or Vocera badges, currently have the leg up on the competition, though this may not last for long.

3. It’s the Network. If you don’t have a reliable network that can handle mobile communications, you’re going to run into problems. And in a world where medical professionals traverse from office to hospital to home, that network may really be a network of networks. While it may be okay to drop a call mid-conversation when chatting out on the street with your buddy, it’s not okay when a nurse misses a critical alarm from a fetal monitor.

In spite of significant efforts, the medical grade network (even purely at the building level) is not a reality yet. And while fixed mobile convergence (FMC) vendors like DiVitas (or the big PBX players like Nortel, Siemens and Avaya) have solutions that manage the transitions between networks for multi-mode devices (e.g., in-building wireless’3G), they can’t really fix the network of networks problem. And even if they could, the purpose-built, multi-mode device with true application integration has yet to appear.

4. What about workflow? Spend time in an Emergency Department or Operating Room suite recently? This incredibly fast moving world doesn’t lend itself well to ad-hoc asynchronous communications like email or text messaging that is de rigueur with normal consumer smartphones, especially given all the possible sending and receiving points. Reliable communication starts first with designed workflow and an understanding of the journey information must take from inception to delivery, to acknowledgement and response. Once you have a workable flow, then software applications and devices can be considered.

For more information, see In Healthcare Communications, One Device Does Not Fit All … Yet

Kenny Schiff is a contributor to’s He is founder and President of TPC Healthcare, a specialty provider of real-time location and point-of-care communication technologies to hospitals and healthcare organizations.

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