Wearability Really Matters When it comes to Alarm Notification and Device Integration

Posted by: Kenny Schiff on March 19, 2013

With Google’s Project Glass  as well as Apple and Samsung’s smart watches soon upon us (and of course the infamous Kickstarter fueled Pebble), there’s new attention to wearable communications devices that’s interesting to see unfold. For any of us who have fumbled with mobile device interfaces for the last 15 or 20 years, the focus on eliminating physical barriers is encouraging. Best of all, it is likely to yield some significant user experience improvements that should carry over to the non-cyborg day-to-day devices we carry.

As an inveterate geek and entrepreneur, my hat is off to these technology behemoths for trying to stimulate a new category to extend their respective reach. But while they may indeed generate buzz, in the near term their exploration is not necessarily driven by truly useful needs that will lead to quick adoption. In verticals like acute care hospitals, it’s a different story. The need for devices (and platforms) that are ergonomically suited to mobile workers has a higher level of urgency.

Smartphones and In-Building Communication Platforms for Healthcare
Because of my work, I’m most intimate with how this plays out with proprietary voice/data devices that are primarily the province of Cisco, Polycom (Spectralink), Ascom, and Vocera, but also increasingly with smartphone applications like Voalte deployed on Android and Apple devices. Since the mid-nineties hospitals have been looking to these devices/platforms to provide better throughput and to close the communications gaps that have always plagued the often chaotic world of hospitals.

3049532570_324bf59c13While wearability will always matter with healthcare workers looking to verbally communicate with their team members (where does the iPhone go when you are wearing a scrub?), the need especially comes into focus when an organization makes a decision to enable integration between these smart devices and alarming applications like nursecall or physiological monitoring. In those use cases notifications are passed from the originating system to a caregiver’s device, and in some cases the caregiver’s response is transacted from the device back to the originating system.

Follow nursing staff around who are tending to patients and you will begin to understand the traditional smartphone in your purse or clipped to your hip is not optimal. Let’s say there’s a critical threshold that has been reached for a patient you are covering? How do you get to your device when a Bed Exit alarm has been tripped? I have been working on two side-by-side integration projects, one using phones, the other Vocera, and while both will have successes the wearability differential is significant and will impact the respective results.

Ease of Response/acknowledgement is Critical Workflow Element
While my 10 years of experience in the Vocera ecosystem would speak to a potential personal bias on this, of the solutions currently on the market in healthcare, Vocera’s is the only one that organically addresses the wearability issue. And this is not just a matter of style, preference or bias. I’ve been involved in wide scale deployments of many of these platforms and recognize each of their merits,; however, save for Vocera, wearability is 100% an afterthought*.

A current focus for my team at T2 has been on supporting patient satisfaction results through improved response time metrics. Our customers have tasked us with understanding the originating data and the response data from customers deploying Vocera and its competitors. A couple of conclusions have really stood out for us:

  1. Integration between alarming systems and mobile devices is now no longer a convenience add-on. Caregiver response is a key data point in understanding staffing and response issues
  2. Ease of response/acknowledgement is a critical workflow element. How one wears the device can significantly impact a caregiver’s ability to response to a patient

Project Glass and Nursecall Integration?
I realize that most people would not put Google’s Project Glass and nursecall integration together, but the larger point is that a high quality interface is a critical success factor, and in an increasingly mobile device-centric world, it’s even more important. Extend the reach of core systems like nursecall with mobile devices, and matters of interface and wearability can no longer be an afterthought. Same with if you are looking to measure and improve your organization’s performance.

*     *     *

Kenny Schiff, is Managing Partner and Founder of T2 Technical Services.  An 18- year veteran of the healthcare technology business, Kenny is considered by his customers and peers to be no-nonsense trusted resource who can be counted on to deliver complex solutions with high impact. Visionary always, but never afraid to be hands on, T2 is a great creative platform for Kenny’s entrepreneurial and technical passions.


*Even Vocera could do more to make the device more wearable. My buddy Mark Smith’s ZYNG (www.peoplemove.net) accessory line is built to further enhance a device like Vocera’s wearability. Starting with his first iPhone and Polycom prototypes Mark recognized the enormous gap between the devices and that wearing them differently could significantly improve a users ability to interact with it.
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