For communications, hospitals increasingly move toward purpose-built devices

By Laura Lovett
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In recent years pagers have gone out of vogue as more and more hospitals have adopted smartphone messaging systems to communicate. But while "bring your own device" (BYOD) was once the trend, hospitals are increasingly moving toward hospital-owned, purpose-built smartphones.

At the Healthcare Messaging Conference and Exhibition at Harvard Medical School on November 29th and 30th, experts discussed what’s next for messaging industry and the pros and cons of smartphone options. 

“What we realize is, the smartphone is coming to healthcare and all of our customers are on different parts of that journey,” Mwila Kapema, product manager at Ascom North America said at the conference. 

Hospitals have specific needs for phones, he said, which is leading many to adopt purpose-built devices. These needs include everything from the ability to roam in hospitals with dead spots to HIPAA requirements for secure messaging. 

Take durability, for example. Physically, hospital phones need to be more durable than consumer phones because of the fast-paced work environment, David Hoglund, founder and CEO of Integra Systems, said at the conference. In a medical environmental, phones need to be able to hit hard surfaces and not break, as well as come into contact with harsh cleaning supplies, according to Hoglund. One way that purpose-built phones are addressing these durability concerns is by using Gorilla Glass. 

Traditional consumer devices, by contrast, "are not built to last and are fragile,” according to Kapema. 

Vendors in this space said they are constantly working with hospitals to address hospital-specific concerns. 

Kapema said that since the birth of the smartphone there has been an evolution in the medical messaging world. At first everyone was using different devices and downloading a messaging system, which created issues for IT professionals who then needed to know multiple platforms. 

Kapema said hospitals evolved again from BYOD policies to offering professional devices. But he said these devices lacked native integrations and had to rely on third party software to link hospital information on multiple platforms. 

Eventually industry-specific enterprise options emerged. Hoglund compared the devices to the industry-specific phones UPS implemented years ago for pick up and delivery.

“It has to be purpose built from end to end—from the bedside all the way to the caregiver's hand,” said Kapema. 

An example of this purposeful model is the notification system. Unlike personal phones, which show the latest notification, Kapema said Ascom phones prioritize and show patient needs first. So instead of getting the latest Facebook message a provider would see a patient's need first, even if the message was most recent. 

But some hospitals are still opting for bring your own device (BYOD) models. This could be for a number of reasons, Orlee Berlove, director of marketing at OnPage Corporation, told MobiHealthNews.

Her company has worked with many facilities that have used this model. OnPage itself is agnostic when it comes to what type of device is used. 

Many physicians move around hospitals, notes Berlove. Each facility may use a different messaging system which could cause confusion. 

Physicians and nurses can be reluctant to use their own device at first, said Berlove. However, many facilities have implemented stipends for employees using their own phone, which has helped satisfaction, said Berlove. This could be less expensive than purchasing entirely new phones. 

Hoglund said the purpose built models and smartphones are roughly the same cost for hospitals but ownership is higher on the smartphones because the service cost. 

“What phone works best? Well, which diet works best?” Bill Foster, director of development at Spectralink, said at the conference. “[It's] the one you stick to. It is all about how you deploy it and how it is adopted.”