Mobile technology could play big role
A July report from Frost & Sullivan predicted that hospital-based secure mobile communications could be a $240 million market in the U.S. by 2020. Much of that technology might lead to better patient safety by reducing communications mishaps, streamlining clinical workflow and, perhaps, cutting down on alert fatigue.
"By eliminating time spent on nonproductive activities, and by helping organizations adhere to the best practices in their clinical workflows (such as the 'six rights' of medicine administration), smartphone-based secure mobile communication solutions can help hospitals deliver better patient care," according to the report.
(Those "six rights": Medications should not be given in hospitals until the administering clinician verifies that it is the right patient, the right medication, the right dosage, the right time for the drug, the right administration route and is recorded with the right documentation.)
Much of the potential remains a few years off, however. "The focus of (clinical mobile) communications today is on people," says Vikrant Gandhi, principal ICT analyst for Frost & Sullivan. "Right now we are in the era of secure texting."
In the future, smartphones might be the answer to the current problem of alarm fatigue, in which an unmanageable volume of alerts causes clinicians to tune out truly important messages that could avert errors, according to the report. IT systems should be able to deliver "contextual alarms" – those that are less frequent, contain patient-specific multimedia and are more relevant to care – to doctors and other practitioners at the point of care.
"Provide more information to physicians downstream," after considering far more factors than existing clinical decision support systems do and sending more than just a text message, Gandhi says.
"The called party should be able to get the 'context' of the call, which can be enabled by integrating the secure communication platform with the EMR, with the location systems, with the scheduling systems and other hospital IT platforms," the report explains.
"For example, delivering an alarm with an included image or a waveform (such as ECG or vital signs) can allow the physician to determine the extent and level of the criticality of the alarm and make appropriate treatment decisions."
Gandhi predicts that contextual alarms will become common in the next three to five years.