Smartphones save money and stave off staffing shortages, study finds

Outdated hospital communications systems -- based on blaring PAs and multiple, often incompatible mobile devices --  are causing confusion, reducing efficiency, wasting money, and helping contribute to serious staffing shortages.

So say the findings of a white paper published today by Voalté, a Sarasota, Fla.-based developer of point-of-care communications software for iPhones and BlackBerry devices. "Smart Hospitals – Embracing Smartphones at the Point of Care" highlights communication inefficiencies within hospitals that cause confusion and reduce effectiveness. It concludes that smartphones offer a comprehensive and easy-to-adopt solution.

Researchers have found that ineffective communication wastes as much as $12 billion nationwide each year, and that frustrations with outmoded systems can lead to nurse dissatisfaction and, ultimately, exacerbate the hospital staffing shortage.

But "smartphones offer a solution to many of today’s healthcare communication issues," the study finds. "With PC-like functionality and advanced capabilities, smartphones provide a single interface to make calls, send texts, manage schedules, organize tasks, view online literature, and receive alerts. Most clinicians are already familiar with smartphones and the devices easily integrate with hospital networks, providing a solid platform for application developers. Mobile healthcare applications allow physicians and nurses easy access to medical information, bringing faster, more informed decision-making to the point of care."

For a typical, 500 bed, acute-care hospital, communication problems between physicians and nurses create an annual $4 million economic burden, the white paper reports, and often needlessly increase the length of hospital stays.

Worse, poor communications can adversely impact care. Noisy overhead paging systems can cause nurses to miss calls – particularly when working within patients’ rooms. In addition, most point-of-care staff are saddled with multiple devices – a nurse may carry a pager, PDA and a mobile phone, with each device providing specific functionality and generating its own alarms. The nurse can't prioritize alarms according to criticality, so a pager buzzes the same tone when a patient wants ice or for a code blue alert.

Although some nurses use legacy wireless VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones for voice communication, these devices offer limited texting and few additional capabilities. However, voice communications require the availability of both parties – a rarity in healthcare settings where clinicians are always busy.

Due in part to these inefficiency and communication problems, nursing dissatisfaction is on the rise. According to a recent study of 43,000 nurses from 700 hospitals, more than 40 percent of U.S. nurses reported being dissatisfied with their jobs – three to four times higher than the average worker.

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