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iPhone Remedies Communication Woes at Texas Hospital

At Texas Children's Hospital (TCH), communication can be a matter of life and death. But with nurses spending more time at bedsides than behind workstations, the Houston-based healthcare facility was struggling "to drive effective communication between nurses, physicians and providers of care," says Myra Davis, vice president of information services at TCH. To cure its communication ailments, TCH turned to a wildly popular consumer device: the Apple iPhone.

What They Did: TCH selected Voalté as its communications provider and set up a community charging station where nurses grab an iPhone at the start of each shift. Upon log-in, the device recognizes the employee's phone number and automatically configures their Voalté mailbox and individual preferences. Nurses use the device to issue status updates indicating whether they are available or busy and to send text messages to individuals or groups. An alarm-management system automatically prioritizes and delivers critical care alerts directly to the iPhone and provides automatic escalation if a user is offline.

How They Did It: Ensuring both instant communication and mobility among employees required some careful forethought. Here's how TCH created a framework for the project's success:

1. Test the infrastructure. Although the iPhones are tied directly to the hospital's existing wireless infrastructure, which is composed of commercially available hardware, "the biggest challenge was making sure our network infrastructure could support [the devices]," Davis says. To minimize risk, TCH conducted a number of pre-deployment trials "to make sure we had access-point and bandwidth coverage in all of our areas."

2. Think through processes. Because nurses can be inundated with alerts and become desensitized to them, TCH set up rules based on the severity of a patient's case and the type of care they require, Davis says. Employees receive only the alarms that are pertinent to them, and even these are delivered based on predetermined degrees of urgency.

3. Stick to business. To prevent employees from updating their Facebook statuses at work, TCH restricted the iPhones to texting only, locking out entertainment options. "That's a security role," Davis says. "These devices are for patient care, not for personal use."

4. Start small. To test the waters, the healthcare facility rolled out its iPhone project at a new campus and maternity center, "where the environment was new, where it was time to try something different, and where we had a very controlled environment to do it in," Davis says.

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