Nov 18 2021

Best Practices for Clinical Communication and Collaboration Device Management

Clinical communication and collaboration tools put valuable information in the hands of care teams. Here are five questions to consider to effectively manage and secure CC&C devices.

Clinical communication and collaboration tools enable the efficient flow of information in a healthcare setting.

HIPAA-compliant phone and text communication is a critical component, but CC&C tools have evolved to automate other time-sensitive types of information sharing, including nurse call alarms, alerts from remote monitoring devices and notifications from electronic health records.

“Organizations are leaning into clinical communication and collaboration,” says Chris Sullivan, Zebra Technologies’ global healthcare practice lead. “The intensity of adoption has spiked. It’s not just more users, it’s also more use cases and more applications. That has triggered organizations to get more dedicated to strategy development.”

As healthcare systems define and refine their CC&C strategies, device management and security should be top-of-mind concerns. Here are five questions to consider.

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1. Should CC&C Support Shared Devices or Bring-Your-Own-Device Policies?

The short answer is yes, to both, Sullivan says.

On one hand, shared devices are the better long-term option, as they are easier to manage, secure and scale. Though CC&C has its roots in secure text messaging and mobile calling for nurses in acute-care settings, it’s now increasingly used across healthcare organizations to share data.

“It has evolved into an enterprisewide platform that enables all departments — now including pharmacy, food service and physical therapy — to communicate and collaborate,” Sullivan says. “That morphs into a need to support the Internet of Things and the cloud.”

At the same time, there will always be situations where certain users need their own devices, such as physicians who may work in several facilities over the course of a shift.

“They’re not going to be tethered to an enterprise device when they are a free-agent caregiver,” Sullivan says.

LEARN MORE: Find out 3 tips to integrate EHRs with CC&C tools.

2. Should CC&C Center on iOS or Android Devices?

This is an important consideration, as CC&C strategy flows from the choice of mobile operating system.

Each OS has advantages and drawbacks, Sullivan says. Since iOS is a closed environment — with rigid requirements and limits on customization — interoperability and scalability can be a challenge. However, iOS apps have custom-built configurations that lend themselves to better security.

Android is an open-source operating system, and therefore more supportive of open application programming interfaces that enable apps to talk to each other. But the Android device market is heavily fragmented, so it’s hard to develop apps that work well across many types of devices.

READ MORE: Learn how CC&C tools support healthcare’s quadruple aim.

3. How Do You Prepare the Hospital Network for CC&C?

Within hospital walls, connectivity is the main concern. Reliable Wi-Fi can be a struggle for older buildings, and dead spots near imaging machines and in elevators don’t help, Sullivan says. Adding IoT devices to monitor patients or RFID to track the whereabouts of expensive equipment also adds to network demand.

Ideally, networks should be segmented, with CC&C platforms given high-speed priority due to their demand for low latency and heavy volume.

Advanced CC&C platforms will support use cases outside the hospital, whether in clinics or in patient-centered medical homes. “That’s a whole different environment,” Sullivan says. Here, the best option is deployment of secure access service edge technology with a wide area network, security controls on the CC&C devices, and support for 4G and 5G networks.

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4. How Do You Keep CC&C Devices Secure?

Sullivan offers two recommendations: management and attestation. Both require going above and beyond the security and monitoring capabilities available out of the box on the typical consumer device.

Inventory management is a big part of CC&C strategy. Unlike the laptops or phones that businesses in other industries provide for employees, these devices cannot leave the hospital. Device management systems help organizations know how many devices are in use, who uses them, how many are connected, where they are located and how they are stored.

Attestation, meanwhile, lets IT teams see the “security health” of a device in real time, as Sullivan puts it. Along with tracking use, attestation monitors devices for out-of-date security patches, unapproved software installations or any other potential threats. This is particularly important for devices deployed in locations outside the hospital’s firewall.

“These devices are highly vulnerable,” Sullivan says. “The edge is very much a leading entry point for bad things.”

GET THE WHITE PAPER: Improve health outcomes with clinical communication.

5. How Can You Prepare Your CC&C Platform for Growth?

As organizations build a CC&C strategy, Sullivan recommends looking at a range of future use cases in the larger context of device, network and security infrastructure. Failing to do this risks making a “dead-end investment” that can’t support the expansion of CC&C.

For example, if a hospital wants a nurse to be able to view information and receive alerts from monitoring devices for one patient while caring for a patient in a different room, that requires a high degree of connectivity, interoperability and data analysis.

“You’re not just connecting devices,” Sullivan says. “You’re parsing and filtering certain parts of the data that they are sharing.”

This can be a tall order, so organizations need to think about the transformational impact that CC&C can have, he adds.

“When it’s working well, it removes a big burden from frontline workers,” Sullivan says. “They can spend more time with patients, and that changes people’s lives.”

READ MORE: Learn how clinical collaboration has evolved and why it’s important now.

Illustration by Traci Daberko