Doctors and nurses at Ochsner Health can use Epic Secure Chat on their mobile devices, enabling secure, encrypted text messaging that links to patients’ charts.

May 18 2022

How Mobility Is Taking Care of Patients and Providers

The integration and increased deployment of mobile technologies are helping healthcare organizations improve quality and access to care.

Ochsner Health recognized the value of mobile communication in medicine early on and has steadily increased its adoption, says Dr. Louis Jeansonne, chief medical information officer. Headquartered in New Orleans with 11 facilities in southern Louisiana and Mississippi, Ochsner now relies on features available on its Epic electronic medical records system to enable prompt, mobile communications for practitioners, says Jeansonne.

“Healthcare has been slower to adopt new c­ommunication technologies compared with some other sectors, but we are now moving beyond the pager,” he says.

Ochsner’s mobile communication once consisted mainly of nurses paging doctors for information or an emergency, he adds. The interaction was initiated in one direction, sometimes involved delays and lacked the clinical context to be found in medical records.

Now, clinicians can use Epic Secure Chat on their iOS or Android phones, enabling secure, encrypted text messaging that links to patients’ charts. Nurses also use Epic’s Rover app for barcode verification. Rover also provides access to patients’ EMRs so that treatment can be documented at the bedside, he adds.

“We can now do almost anything on a mobile device that you can do in an EMR. You can write orders, you can document and you can see all the patient’s medications,” he says. “A physician, either in the hospital or on call elsewhere, can use a mobile device to see a patient’s chart and even images like X-rays, CT scans or MRIs. It’s helpful not just for convenience, but also speeds up decisions about care.”

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Enable Mobility Anywhere for Clinicians

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly expanded telemedicine access, but it also stoked interest in the value of mobile technologies within the walls of clinical settings, says IDC Research Director Mutaz Shegewi.

“Mobile solutions can provide ubiquitous access to diagnostic test results and medical databases, enable clinicians to see and add documentation to electronic health records from anywhere, and can facilitate rapid videoconferencing for physicians,” Shegewi says.

Some 79 percent of healthcare organizations support smartphones, the top supported device since 2012, according to a 2021 survey from healthcare communications company Spok. There’s also more support for tablet devices.

But the promise of mobility within healthcare brings along many complications, including the need for extra attention to security, privacy and regulatory compliance. The proliferation of endpoints requires mobile device management, as well as application performance management tools. Mobile applications will add to the ongoing explosion in the data that healthcare organizations gather and need to retain and secure, which has a huge impact on back-end systems, Shegewi says.

RELATED: Learn best practices for clinical communication and collaboration device management.

“Alignment is crucial,” he adds. “Align connectivity to the use case; it’s one thing to buy an app or device and another for it to deliver benefits. Devices, apps and all your systems need to work together.”

Trusted, long-term partnerships will help healthcare organizations exploit the potential of mobile technologies and control costs, says Shegewi. This is especially true for the coming transition to 5G networks, which should improve user experience and facilitate innovation, such as the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies in medicine, he adds.

“There’s a lot to take into consideration and to do, but mobile technologies can have a tremendous impact on access to care and quality of care,” Shegewi says.

Artificial Intelligence Tracks Patients and Predicts Health Crises

Ochsner Health deploys a homegrown patient deterioration model system that uses artificial intelligence to track patients’ conditions, predict health crises more quickly than possible with standard monitoring, and send alarms to clinicians’ mobile devices. The cardiac arrest rate outside of Ochsner’s intensive care units has decreased by 40 percent since it started using the system, says Jeansonne. Ochsner also uses a RapidAI application to speed the diagnosis of strokes in emergency rooms and deliver notifications to all relevant clinicians.

Ochsner has hired additional staff to manage the increased network traffic and retained data resulting from the growth in mobile communications, as well as from other digital technologies and telemedicine. Both bandwidth and security on its network have been bolstered, Jeansonne adds.

“We now share more data with patients and with each other, and that makes for better care,” Jeansonne says. “Clinicians love the changes mobile technologies bring, giving them options and making sure communication is open and rapid.”

Dr. Louis Jeansonne quote

Photography by Daymon Gardner

The Cloud Supports Mobility in Healthcare

Chapters Health System, which operates hospice facilities and provides palliative home care for 12 counties in the Tampa, Fla., area, has taken a two-pronged approach to optimizing the impact of mobile technology on its services. The first step was upgrading the organization’s intranet and collaboration tools by rolling out Microsoft Teams and the new version of Office 365, bringing SharePoint to the cloud, says CIO Sheri Strobel.

“That means that our clinicians, nurses and hospice aides can have access to the intranet and all of Chapters’ resources — training, education policies and procedures, as well as news and updates — exposed securely anywhere, on any device,” Strobel says. “Clinical documentation is easier and better because of immediate patient context.”

With improved communication and collaboration applications in place, Chapters Health re-examined the mobile hardware that practitioners were using and provided staff with ASUS C434 Chromebooks, managed under a Google Admin console with authentication federated to Okta.

READ MORE: Discover how the ASUS Chromebook Enterprise Flip C436 offers robust computing.

“Replacing a mobile app on a phone with a Chromebook is going against the trend toward smaller form factors, but we were listening to our users and their experiences,” Strobel says. “Typing on a full-size keyboard on a secure Chromebook makes their jobs easier.”

To lock down security for its increasingly mobile workforce, Chapters Health standardized on Okta identity management, modernized its endpoint encryption and moved to two-factor authentication for all applications and services, Strobel says.

Increased use of mobile technologies means that Chapters Health captures significantly more data than it had previously, but many key back-end resources, including its EMR, are delivered as Software as a Service, and existing contracts accommodated the growth, Strobel says.

The key to making mobile technologies effective tools, Strobel adds, is understanding how users work and what would help them with their tasks.

“You can’t assume you know all your users if you only know one or two. Get out into the operation,” she says. “You don’t know what it’s like to be a clinician and what will help them do their jobs until you listen to them. When you make a change, get early adopters on board and keep listening to their feedback.”

Serving Providers and Patients with Mobile Tools

At University of Michigan Health-West, mobile tools are improving patient care and practitioner communications inside its facilities as well as beyond clinical settings, says Chief Digital and Information Officer Josh Wilda. UMH-West offers healthcare services in 20 locations in four counties near Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Our strategy is to meet patients where they need us, whether that’s in a traditional brick-and-mortar hospital setting, in their home or somewhere else, and mobility is a big part of that strategy,” Wilda says.

For more than a decade, UMH-West has deployed VMware virtual desktops to give clinicians access to all the records and resources they need on any device, whether they’re in an exam room, at a patient’s hospital bedside or at home. Although the virtual desktops have strong built-in security, they are segmented from the main UMH-West network. UMH-West also linked a communications platform to its Epic EMR to support secure messaging among clinicians, Wilda says.

GET THE WHITE PAPER: Leverage real-time clinical communication to improve patient outcomes.

As mobility became more central to communication and services within its facilities, UMH-West added bandwidth and uses Cisco’s Identity Services Engine for secure network access control and policy enforcement for both its main and guest networks. The organization is moving to Microsoft Intune, a comprehensive mobile device management and security tool, because of the solution’s compatibility with the health system’s Microsoft infrastructure, Wilda says.

Mobile technologies can improve the ways that clinicians access and share information, but they should enhance, not replace, the relationship between patients and providers, says Wilda. It’s critical to take the time to understand the experience IT can provide, and to listen to feedback from patients and practitioners, he says.

“Healthcare will always be person-to-person,” Wilda adds. “We have to make sure mobile technology is not a wedge between patient and provider. We like to say we’re wrapping our digital arms around patients and allowing our employees to work at the top of their licenses. We want to lessen the burden on clinicians so they can spend more time with patients.”

Photo Courtesy of Grace Hebert Curtis Architects

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