A pharmacist uses their Zebra HC50 mobile device to verify a prescription
By Lorna Hopkin | May 14, 2024

HIMSS 24 - A Rollercoaster Ride in Healthcare Trends

There are so many new technologies being touted for healthcare, and so many new ways of working. Which ones really make a difference? Here’s my take (based on others’ stories).

My first trip to the HIMSS Global Healthcare event, held in the theme park capital of the world – Orlando, Florida – was everything I expected and more. I got to see the latest healthcare solutions in action, mingle with healthcare movers and shakers, and hear about trends impacting the global community. 

 The traditional pressures of a growing, aging population with associated chronic illness and workforce shortages remain. However, new ways of working are emerging thanks to technological advances that are allowing for greater digitalisation of everything. 

Of course, there was a lot of focus on the mechanisms needed to evade issues that come alongside electronic healthcare. ‘Security’, ‘connectivity’, and ‘data management’ were words I heard many times during my trip, with security (unsurprisingly) being a top theme.

As someone who is both professionally and personally invested in the healthcare community’s business practices, I wanted to know what happens when technology systems fail to protect data. I was drawn to a talk about what to do after a major incident. Here I learnt how a U.S. health company reacted to a major breach, including the processes it adopted and how this changed the culture of the organisation. 

Cybersecurity had not been a top priority for the organisation, and it lacked resources because it did not fully comprehend the potential impacts. So, when a ransomware attack occurred, the organisation went into panic, there was a PR disaster, and operations were cancelled. It sounded pretty awful for everyone. With the help of consultants, normality was gradually restored, and the company went on to adopt a significantly more robust cybersecurity strategy. My takeaway was that organisations must change their culture to be paranoid to cyberattacks. They are becoming more frequent and increasingly sophisticated, so bracing for and accepting that conflict will likely come is central to a security-led organisational mindset. 

Related Read:

When Sustainability and Security Align (in Healthcare)

Assuming that you are always a target is key to putting up the strongest defence. You will always be looking for your vulnerabilities and working to eliminate them, which is critical to not becoming a victim considering how many connected networks, devices, and systems are now used in healthcare. If the device is ‘online’, it’s a potential point of entry for bad actors.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon ship and revert to traditional, manual administration. There are so many benefits of digitalisation, as healthcare providers reiterated in nearly every session I attended. Just understand the security defences built into each technology you consider using for patient care and administrative tasks, and only choose those that can be constantly monitored and updated to enterprise (or government) security standards. Do this, and you can reduce the risk of a cyber breach, whilst still reaping the benefits of digitalisation, as National Health System (NHS) trusts in the U.K. are experiencing.

As an example of a digitalisation success, one of my HIMSS experiences was a talk delivered by Rachael Ellis, Scan4Safety Director at Hull Teaching Hospital. She spoke about how Hull is leading the way in asset tracking with a highly sophisticated RFID solution that gives near-instant visibility of 72,000 items around the hospital. Antennas are mounted at doorways to track assets in and out of rooms, then handheld RFID readers track items down to their exact location. Watch this:

Rachael talked about how she has also helped drive the Scan4Safety program, which links patients to pathways via barcoded wristbands. The program reduces errors in medicine administration, blood testing, and implants by swapping out handwritten or manually typed records with GS1 barcode-based data. The patient sits at the centre, with pathways linked to them via their barcoded wristband that help to ensure the right medicine or process is given to the right patient at the right time through the right mechanism at the right dose. It was a fantastic talk, brought to life with videos of staff taken at the hospital, all delivered by Rachael from the heart and with humour. 

 Zebra has helped deliver this huge RFID solution at Hull, as discussed during the presentation, and we’ve worked with other trusts on Scan4Safety. So, it is always rewarding to see the positive impact our collective efforts have had on healthcare providers and patients. I was also honoured to spend much of my week with Rachael, attending panel discussions and meetings and being introduced to other hospital leaders. 

 Back in my days as the tablet product marketing manager for Zebra in EMEA, I helped to launch our 5G rugged healthcare tablets, with features geared up for community workers. As such, I was keen to see how decentralised ways of working are impacting healthcare providers, including those providing home health services. So, in addition to the one-on-one conversations I joined with Rachael, I attended a session that explored how patients on certain pathways (oncology, orthopaedics, and hypertension) could be supported through home health options. 

The presenters showed how technology could be used to integrate health statistics obtained at home into their electronic medical records (EMRs) via patient surveys. This gives visiting clinicians access to a much broader suite of data ahead of calls to assist with recovery plans and diagnosis. The campaign metrics were linked to satisfaction, as opposed to patient outcomes, but the learnings were of interest. 

Top of the list was how critical it is for the full team to accept and champion the movement of patient treatment out of the hospital and into the home. No matter how hard nurses worked, if doctors weren't engaged and responding to patient surveys, then patients stopped submitting data. The whole change management process had to be right for this new way of working to be accepted by patients, nurses, and doctors. Without the participation of all parties, it won’t deliver value. I’ll be interested to see if there’s greater uptick around the world, as I can see tremendous benefit in this type of tech-enabled home health model. 

To be honest, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible in home health. There’s plenty of technology available now to support healthcare providers ‘in the field’. 

At HIMSS, the home health section of the Zebra booth showed several different ways a handheld mobile device or tablet could help extend standard hospital and clinic services into patients’ homes. The 'Smurf Baby', which I affectionately call the tablet because of its blue and white colouring, can be used for everything from video calls with consultants located elsewhere to looking at data heavy documents such as MRI scans or checking and adding notes to the patients’ EMRs. With its disinfectant-proof plastics, emergency response buttons, and inbuilt scanner, all you need to do is load the right software, make sure it can connect to the right systems, and both doctors and nurses won’t even realize they’re working outside the hospital. They’ll have access to the information and tools they need to care for patients and the ability to connect to other medical devices to sync data.   

 In fact, a Zebra stand tour took visitors on a patient journey at a hospital that I feel could easily be replicated in a home health setting.

It began at check-in where a positive patient ID experience linked directly to Rachael’s Scan4Safety message. If you were at the hospital, you might check in via a Zebra tablet mounted on a stand near the entrance and then print off your GS1-barcoded wristband, which would link you safely to your medications and procedures records – a huge benefit for the provider who sees you that day. They can review your medical history without wasting time asking you to recall every detail. Whilst a home health patient may not need to print a wristband each time a nurse comes over, perhaps a driver’s license or other barcoded ID could be used for positive patient identification and that EMR connection. The nurse could just scan the ID using the inbuilt scanner on their tablet and pull up your record and orders.

 Now, whether at a hospital or home, nurses and doctors will often consult with one another before making a decision about patient care. 

So, on the next stop of our patient journey tour, we showed a unique, yet simple, communication platform called Workcloud Communication that can be loaded onto any handheld mobile device or tablet for instant conversations between care team members. This particular platform lets clinicians communicate securely all around the hospital (or between home health and hospital teams) on Zebra devices using a walkie-talkie type mechanism known as 'push to talk' (PTT). They could also use it to make a typical phone call through the 'enterprise voice’ feature that takes the necessary security precautions when airing sensitive data. Oddly enough, Workcloud Communication was a big part of a conversation I had with a Chief Informatics Nursing Officer during the HIMSS networking event at Universal Studios just before we rode 'The Hulk' Rollercoaster (which is definitely recommended). 

I’m not surprised, though. Major healthcare systems like the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) in the U.S. have quickly realized the benefits of Workcloud Communication since switching to Zebra clinical devices from Apple devices. One of our partners, SMG3, managed the deployment of the devices and communication platform and reports that UMMS is enjoying streamlined communication between clinical staff which is in turn driving critical patient safety.

And since we’re on the topic of communications, I want to give a shout out to the Tagnos team, as its software is what has given every asset at Hull (and other hospitals) a digital voice. This is the key to illuminating the finer workings of healthcare operations, and it’s saving Hull staff more than 2,000 weeks in clinical time chasing down equipment and assets per year!! If you’re looking for a way to alleviate staffing pressures, check out that video above and reach out to Rachael to learn more about how she’s been able to harmonize all these different scanning, RFID, and communication technologies with the help of Zebra, Tagnos, and others. (You might also want to check out this post from Tagnos’ CTO when you get a minute, just to understand different ways to approach real-time locationing.)

 My Final Impression

There are so many new strategies being explored in healthcare, and technology is going to be central to making them all happen. In many cases, technology is already enabling healthcare specialists around the globe to work in new ways (and work with a little less stress) to the benefit of you, me, and the millions of people who will either need care or will provide care in our lifetime.

In the Zebra stand alone, I saw how intelligent cabinets made it easier to store and restore (charge) the mobile devices that have essentially become a lifeline in healthcare, giving doctors and nurses instant access to patient charts, schedules, and each other. The information they can share and request via healthcare handheld mobile computers and tablets has tremendously improved care quality and continuity, as there are far fewer delays in getting answers about medical histories or getting support from other care team members when stepping in to provide acute or long-term care.

Perhaps that’s why so many software tools demonstrated at HIMSS this year were focused on improving the mobility experience, including SMG3 EDGE lifecycle management software, Imprivata clinical mobility tools (such as single sign-on), Oneview Patient Experience, Verizon 5G for business, and even Device Tracker – which I was amazed to learn can find products up to 20 days after the battery dies! Though some of these technologies work more ‘behind the scenes’ to keep the devices online and healthy, they took center stage because they are the key to keeping healthcare providers online so they can more effectively help patients return to health without burning out themselves.

I was also happy to see so much interest in temperature sensors, Tecsys operating room solutions, and even printers, RFID, and barcode scanners. Each of these technologies helps healthcare providers and patient support staff work efficiently to provide the proper care to each patient at the right time. That’s why they each deserve a closer look by you and your team. 

Even if you use some of these technologies today, are you using the right versions of these technologies? And are you using them the right way? There are a lot of people who say their mobile devices aren’t helping as much as they hoped, and that’s because they’re either limited in what they can do on their devices (maybe because they’re missing key software apps or information system connections), their device only works in some parts of the building (which indicates a wireless network issue), or they keep leaving it behind in patient rooms and can’t easily find it (Device Tracker to the rescue!). 

 So, whether you were at HIMSS 2024 or not, I strongly encourage you reach out to Rachael at Hull as well as reps from the other companies I mentioned to see what they’ve been doing to make it easier to provide top-notch patient care without compromising staff health or profitability. My colleagues and I can also share plenty of examples of what we’ve found to be working well in different acute and non-acute healthcare settings. There’s a lot that can still be done to improve the speed and accuracy of everything from medication administration, diagnostic, and surgical processes to asset tracking/management, medical tool sterilization, and scheduling.

I’ve written about a few of them before, which you can read below, but there are plenty more things you can do to make your job – and your team’s jobs – easier and patient experiences even better.

Related Insights:

Blog, Article, Success Story, Healthcare, Automation, Partner Insight, Digitizing Workflows, Handheld Mobile Computers, New Ways of Working, RFID, Scanning Solutions, Software Tools, Tablets,
Lorna Hopkin
Lorna Hopkin

Lorna Hopkin is Product Marketing Advisor at Zebra Technologies with responsibility for Zebra healthcare solutions and advanced location technologies. Lorna joined Zebra in August 2018 as part of its acquisition of rugged tablet specialist Xplore Technologies.

Lorna is a chartered marketer and has two and half decades’ experience across a wide range of industries. At Zebra, she has launched a variety of products into the healthcare space and other verticals.

Lorna is a tireless advocate for health and fitness at Zebra and in her spare time participates in Ironman competitions and enjoys writing about her experiences at  https://theordinaryironman.com/

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