Prescribing the Right Tech to Modernise Healthcare

Clinical Workflow Capabilities to Benefit Patient and Provider

A doctor reviews a patient's record on his handheld mobile computer
by Wayne Miller
May 31, 2019

There is a wealth of reporting to indicate that the global healthcare sector is under-resourced. And it is widely accepted by healthcare professionals that many inefficiencies still need to be addressed within facilities and the supply chain alike. Unfortunately, these issues are currently contributing to medical errors – human errors – that are being quantified by the number of lives lost. The adoption of intelligent solutions within the healthcare community has been slow compared to other industries such as retail and logistics. Ironic considering healthcare could probably benefit the most! It’s hard to believe that, despite living in a connected world with Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, a doctor or nurse is not able to access everything and everyone they need to provide an optimal level of care to every patient at the right time, every time.

Many processes are still very arduous and manual throughout the patient journey, from the way identification verification occurs upon admission, to sample and specimen processing, drug administration and eventual discharge and billing. Prescribing the right technology to modernise key clinical workflows is a big investment and challenge for many healthcare providers, but the solutions are out there. (And the process is often not as complex as it may be perceived to be – if you partner with a solution provider that understands both the technologies you need and how they need to be uniquely commissioned within healthcare environments.)

Minimising clinical challenges

Healthcare communication workflows, critical to the patient journey, need to be secure, fast and reliable. That is why 71 percent of hospitals identify mobile communication as a priority. A mobile clinician is an empowered clinician. It is essential to equip nurses, physicians and other staff with a rugged mobile computing device (like a tablet) that enables them to read electronic medical records, view and create media such as videos and photos, contact colleagues or respond to alarms on the go. In the future, it’s likely that these devices will be used to perform tests such as blood pressure and temperature readings, too. But the communication workflow is just one important consideration that must be made when manufacturers are designing – and you are procuring – devices that are “purposely built”, which I’ll discuss more in a moment.

Another critical consideration when evaluating the value of certain technologies is the role they could play in managing the many thousands of assets a single site may own, from heart monitors to wheelchairs. Manual inventory is a painstakingly slow, inaccurate process leading to unnecessary purchase, rental or loss/theft of equipment – a huge drain on hospital budgets. RFID technologies have proven to be an effective tool for asset management and tracking, as well as locating biomedical devices for emergency or general use. They also make it easier to maintain proper inventory levels, identify performance issues and complete repairs as needed.

At the same time, allocating beds (including specialist beds and cots) would become much more manageable and efficient if you had the ability to analyze ward occupancy status and bed condition. Of course, tracking medication administered to a patient (scanning the packaging barcode, for example) is beneficial to inform stock levels and determine the costs associated with that patient for billing. Medicine tracking also creates a precise record of patient care – critical in the case of drug recall.

In other words: RFID and mobile computing technologies that are supported by barcode technology have become a cornerstone to modernising healthcare. They also need to be adopted in healthcare settings to meet national and global standards, including those set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and government-defined regulations such as the Falsified Medicines Directive.

Lifesaver: barcode technology for medical purposes

A patient’s barcode wristband is so much more than a means of identification– it’s a lifesaver. Medical error is the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, and a barcode enables the caregiver to provide the “five rights” at the bedside – right patient, right medication, right dose, right time and right method of administration. Under time pressure, staff may skip steps (either accidentally or intentionally) in manually confirming a patient’s ID and updating records, but barcode wristbands capture critical information about a patient (far more than could ever be written on one!) available at every scan.

Imagine you’re a busy, stressed or fatigued healthcare professional. Take a look at this graphic of patient sample tubes with very similar labels - could you identify the unique tube from the selection?

Did you get it right? How long did it take you?

Evidence suggests that printing and labeling specimens at the bedside dramatically reduces mislabeling and meets ‘positive patient ID’ standards. Redraws, retesting and additional treatment that result from sample errors cost the healthcare industry an estimated $200 million to $400 million per year. As consumers, we can track parcels in real time. So, hospitals should be doing the same with clinical consignments to speed up diagnosis and treatment…for the right patients.

Would digitalization of the healthcare system replace human communication (i.e. the ‘bedside manner’ element)? I don’t think so. Barcodes don’t need to replace the dialogue; they serve to greatly enhance it and act as back up. If the patient is a child or asleep, you won’t need to rely on them to confirm an ID, allergies or drugs administered – it will be there in black and white. 2D barcodes are so versatile and resilient, storing more data in less space, the patient’s arm would not even need to be moved for accurate scanning even if the barcode was damaged. To sum it up, barcode technology hugely improves productivity and decision-making, which can mean life or death in the healthcare industry.

Prescribing tech that is “purpose built”

Modernising a healthcare setting through technology is a considerable but essential investment for improving the quality of care in the long term. Questions need to be answered before you decide on your strategy, such as which enterprise mobile technologies will best support your unique healthcare setting and how you will manage workplace policies, training and integration with existing workflows. You will also need to build a thorough criteria list, including these common considerations for mobile healthcare solutions:

  • Practical features, such as a mobile computer with a handle for carrying and hanging up. (Did you know the pioneering “rugged tablet with a handle” was launched as a Mobile Clinical Assistant but has been snapped up by other field-service organizations, such as utilities, construction firms and public safety agencies? Read more about that in this blog.)
  • Durability features, such as resilience to chemicals and temperatures in lab process (e.g. thermal barcodes); the ability to tolerate cleaning/disinfecting to clinical standards; and the availability of responsive, splash-proof screens that work even when a user is wearing gloves.
  • Performance features, such as patient data security, a long battery life, the ability to back up data in the event of a cyberattack or power/Wi-Fi failure, and the ability to onboard the technologies with minimal training.
  • User experience, including the intuitiveness of clinician devices or comfort and safety of patient wristbands.

There are many more – this is just a starter. (Read my recent blog for a more thorough list and a great clinical mobility resource guide.)

There’s no doubt that prescribing the right technology will improve performance and productivity, creating a safer, more efficient experience for both patients and healthcare professionals. Hospitals and clinics around the world are gradually waking up to the notion of technological investment to improve results and reduce medical error, but there are plenty lagging behind. Connected care is long overdue, but rest assured the technology to bring it to fruition is out there when you are ready to digitise and modernise your healthcare operations.

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We Want to Know…

Have you had positive (or negative) hospital experiences thanks to technology or lack of? Do you envision great technological advances in patient care soon? Email us at blog@zebra.com or share your thoughts with us on social media.

And, in case you missed it, check out the latest edition of our Stories from the Edge series to hear first-hand from a Truman Medical Centers nurse about how mobile computers are helping to improve staff productivity and patient care.

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Wayne Miller
Wayne is the Zebra lead for Healthcare solutions and works to directly improve patient care, supporting partners and end users.
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