Mobile Devices in Healthcare: Evolving Uses and Unique Challenges

By Patricia Ross
Topics: Healthcare Mobile Device Management (MDM)

The evolving uses and unique challenges of mobile devices in healthcare

Mobile device usage has evolved in healthcare to be a foundational element across all areas, from patient care to meeting sustainability and green initiatives. Unlike some other industries, healthcare has embraced mobile device opportunities, pushing the envelope on new use cases and new applications.

The pandemic created a huge demand for devices with a lot of hospitals deploying tablets specifically for patients to use in their rooms to connect with their families on the outside when they were in quarantine. With physicians and nurses as early adopters of mobile device technology, prior to the events of 2020 and 2021, new use cases are continuously popping up to drive efficiency improvements and enhancements in the continuum of care.

Unique uses in the continuum of care

From hospitals and clinics to home health and telehealth, mobile devices have become common tools in healthcare.

Self-check in kiosks were in use prior to the pandemic, but the surge in social distancing and contactless check in have remained. Hospitals are using tablets, sanitized between uses, for patients to notify staff they are there for their appointment, fill out questionnaires, and update history and medications. Once the patient fills out their information, they take the tablet to the desk and get an IoT badge to wear while in the facility to signify they have been cleared to be in the building and to help them navigate extensive campuses.

Mobile devices, specifically in-room tablets used by patients to communicate with their care team, have made triage more efficient and effective enabling overworked care givers to better manage their patient load without diminishing their continuum of care. Patients can ask a question using their device and get an answer right away or request a refill of water and have delivered instead of waiting, sometimes up to an hour.

“Home healthcare providers are using the tablets they can take with them into homes to log their time, patient information and vitals, and share information instantly with the patient’s physician care team,” explains Jeff Schaeffer, Vox Mobile Customer Success Executive. The simplicity of using the tablet and corresponding apps helps the care giver do a better job, but also connects the patient to their care team through this one representative. “For the provider it also gives them the ability to track their location when they go into people’s homes, using geotagging, which provides an extra level of safety,” he adds.

Telehealth is another area where mobile devices are helping healthcare to expand to hard-to-reach areas. In rural areas where they may lack facilities or those living there may be leery of healthcare, equipping them with mobile technology has empowered them to seek healthcare. “By putting corporate-owned devices loaded with the necessary apps, hospitals and clinics are enabling people in these populations to take advantage of telehealth capabilities for them and their families which is setting an example for others to adopt,” says Cameron Hodgson, Vox Mobile Customer Success Executive. “The experience is so much better when people can connect with doctors on a regular basis virtually, from a specific location, compared to having a doctor come out to their area once a week or once a month or having to travel hours to see the doctor.”

Unique challenges for healthcare mobile devices

With increased adoption of mobile devices comes some challenges that are unique for healthcare providers. Most healthcare organizations have smaller IT departments with a fraction of a percentage of that focused on mobility management. There’s also a number of restrictions, requirements, and compliance standards that wrap around healthcare, especially when it comes to health records.

Application management

There isn’t a lot of custom or homegrown apps in healthcare. A lot of the technologies that are out there have made really great applications commercially available to healthcare providers, as well as us patients and consumers. More so than a lot of other verticals, healthcare devices are under particular constraints around their operating systems.

“Being able to control those updates and also a lot of the constant testing on all these applications any time a new vendor comes up, is really specific in healthcare,” explains Schaeffer. “Managing all these business-critical applications and making sure they all work on all the latest versions of OS requires a team of people.”

Hodgson adds, “Healthcare is unique in the extensive process they use to test applications and device models. For a lot of clients, we receive updates from the carriers about when a new model is released and when we should make it live. For healthcare it’s always an extensive testing period before we can make those same changes to ensure it meshes well with their applications before they can even consider making that the new standard for their users.”

This can be a major uptick in their team’s workload. Utilizing a solution provider well-versed in healthcare, like Vox Mobile’s Administration Services, helps ensure everything from a security perspective is going to check out and that there’s no gaps on the apps or the OS on the phone.

End of life and exchanges

In any industry that’s very regulated, such as healthcare, exchanges when a phone is damaged isn’t as easy as it is for other businesses. “One of our customers, a large regional healthcare provider, has strict regulations around the trade in of the devices in their fleet. A user can’t just walk into an Apple store and do an exchange of their broken iPhone. They have to reach out to us, as their managed mobility services provider, and filter back through our depot,” says Rob Seemann SVP, Product Strategy and Innovation at Vox Mobile.

It’s an awful lot of work, but Rob explains why this process is so important. “There’s potentially very sensitive HIPAA information on those devices. If the device was exchanged at the retailer, there’s no guarantee that the device is wiped of all information, especially sensitive patient information, from the MDM first. This is a very important compliance action that healthcare has to take.”

End of life is the same way regarding recycling devices. There are concerns around that process, because even if it’s wiped and all the data is erased, is it worth the risk to allow the device to be sold in secondary market? For a lot of healthcare organizations, they don’t want to take the chance, so though they recycle their devices, it’s for destruction. Most organizations have some concern about this, but with healthcare it is a closed process and for good reason.

Healthcare mobility specialists

Vox Mobile has extensive expertise developing comprehensive mobility strategies that help healthcare leaders get the most out of their mobility investment.

Lifecycle Management – No more outdated apps or devices, or contract renewals popping up when you least expect them. We ensure that your team has the most reliable devices in-hand and that there are no surprises to keep you from providing the utmost care.

First-call Resolution – Healthcare providers don’t have the time to go through a laborious diagnosis and remedy process when it comes to their devices. If we can’t solve an issue over the phone, we’ll send a new device immediately, so your staff can get back to helping patients.

Trusted Mobility Advisor – From consultation and design to staging and same-day delivery to help desk support and other end-user support services, our team of mobility specialists can set you on the right path and manage your journey.

Greater ROI – Providing management assistance to streamline your mobility efficiency is only one way we help you get more out of your mobility investment. We offer the most substantial licensing discounts, or can manage your current licensing agreement, as well as drive enterprise adoption and reduce shelf-ware.

As healthcare continues in its expansion of mobile device uses, Vox Mobile is here to help. Schedule a consultation and find out what we can do to keep your mobility health, from end to end.