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Why Medical Practices Stick with Outdated Technology


Implementing smartphones into clinical practice can improve physician response times, increases efficiency and transforms care team communication.

Communication is the name of the game for Sean Spina, PharmD, the clinical pharmacy coordinator at the British Columbia-based Vancouver Island Health Authority. The Vancouver Island Health Authority provides health care services through a network of hospitals, clinics, centers, health units, and residential care locations.

Providing these services through a broad range of health care facilities requires flawless communication. Advancing communication, specifically the adoption of smartphones, is the focus of Spina's work, and what he will be presenting during the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's (HIMSS) annual conference, being held from March 5-9 in Las Vegas, Nev. 

Physicians Practice sat down with Spina to discuss his HIMSS18 presentation, "The Impact of Smartphone Technology in Clinical Practice." The following are excerpts from this conversation.

Physicians Practice: What led you to look into healthcare communication?

Sean Spina: The eye-opener for me came in 2010. I went through security at an airport, I took all my stuff off and threw my pager in the bin. The security [professional] said 'you work in health care don't you?' And I looked at her and said, 'How do you know?' And she said, 'You have a pager, nobody else carries pagers.'

PP: Why do practices continue to use old communication technology?

SP: There's a lot of comfort in pager technology. In health care, it's fascinating to me, we spend lots of money on [clinical medical] devices, but the interesting thing is that when a patient gets really, really sick, the first thing we do is go and sit down at a landline and dial up a number to page a physician.
Historically [in healthcare], we always defer to the safe and trusted. Our number one premise in healthcare is 'do no harm,' so pagers are a safe, trusted method that has proven the test of time. They are also safe to use, nonintrusive, and secure.

PP: Is there any risk involved with adopting smartphone technology?

SP: With a pager, when you're on-call and you get a page in the middle of the night, you have time to roll over, get out of bed, and wake up for a few minutes. As soon as we gave people smartphones and people were calling directly to their phones, all of a sudden, you're expected to perform at three in the morning as soon as you pick up the phone.

Another issue we had was how to know if an employee is working. If we give them a smartphone, how do you know if they are working? [Also problematic] is if a random person phones you up, it just shows up as a phone number. If you want people to communicate in a health care system, you cannot just give everyone a phone, you need a common address list so that people can connect with each other.

PP: What will people learn from your session?

SP: I would hope that they would learn that implementation of integrated communication software in a clinical setting has a positive impact on clinical workflows, including physician workflows, as well as patient care. It is absolutely essential that we as health care providers evaluate new processes and work flows when we try to implement them. I want people to appreciate what is coming down the road in this space and that [communication] has been, in my opinion, an underdeveloped area in health care for many, many years and it's really starting to take off now.

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