Just the beginning…
Essentially, a mobile device is a computer tied to a screen and a battery with a whole bunch of different built-in “radios” that connect to a Bluetooth device; a Wi-Fi network; or a cellular network.
To me, “mobile” refers to devices, such as smartphones and tablets, that can be easily carried around and used on the go. Mobile devices typically have wireless connectivity, allowing users to access the internet and communicate with others from virtually anywhere. Mobile technology has evolved quickly. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of different devices that can be used at the point of care to help home care staff. The devices are lightweight, durable, water resistant, have battery power to last the day, adjustable fonts, keyboard options, and come in a variety of screen sizes to accommodate individual preferences.
It’s not about the connection
Cellular networks have become faster and better, and today there are 5th generation networks (5G) readily available. The impact is superfast seamless access to the internet and therefore to information, people, and communication – for a price. Canada is one of the most expensive places in the world to operate a mobile device. Furthermore, the geography is such that there will always be areas where connectivity is problematic. The key is to have software that functions on a mobile device even when there is no internet connection. The application stores the information and forwards it when the user is back into an area of coverage.
The 5G mobile networks can handle thousands of different smart devices at the same time. They are able to transmit large quantities of data and are faster than the typical Wi-Fi. The two technologies work in different ways but increasingly to connect people, provide monitoring, and support, smart home and/or smart devices will be linked to 5G networks.
Whose device is it?
It used to be an employee perk to have an employer owned mobile device. However, smartphones are so ubiquitous that it is pretty much expected that employees have their own phone. Some organizations provide a monthly stipend to cover a portion of the line rental.
The conversation has shifted to mobile device management. This is the software that protects staff and client privacy by controlling setting on the device. Employers can build this into their own devices and/or employees can accept that certain programs/applications on their phone will be securely managed separately from their personal resources. The ownership becomes a matter of preference, convenience, and/or economic benefit.
Mobile a must for home care?
Providing the “right care, at the right time, in the right place, by the right provider” necessitates access to the right information. While there are issues of interoperability  across the health system, the ability to access files and notes from within the organization while in the community is crucial at a minimum to deliver the most informed care.
The smartphone enables access to the schedule for the day and as changes occur makes real-time updates. It can provide turn by turn directions, supporting safe and efficient travel. GPS location on the phone can automatically confirm the arrival and departure of the staff from the client’s home and enable oral communication with clients and/or staff in the event of an irregularity.
Documentation on the smartphone is relatively easy but some users prefer a tablet with a larger screen for care planning and detailed clinical documentation. Challenges arise with shortcuts – taking the desktop version of software and viewing it on a phone’s web browser. To get the most out of mobile technology, the needs of the user, the organizational processes, and the way in which information is received must be understood. For example, the mobile tracking, scheduling and the endless changes to schedules, and basic documentation features can be linked to payroll and accounts receivable eliminating time sheets and/or multiple phone calls to adjust a schedule change so that it is processed properly.
Providing a feedback loop so to realize a value proposition for the employee as well as the employer is key to success. For example, the ability for the mobile device to track the employee’s activities can be of service by providing visibility on payment for specific visits and mileage or expense calculations.
User training and support in the field
Taking the time to train new staff on how the software works and using a learning management system with ‘quick tip’ videos is known to assist with adoption. Additionally, having strong processes in place and staffing the IT Helpdesk to address user issues when they arise are requisite features of the organization that relies on mobile devices to operate.
The bi-directional exchange of information will continue to be improved upon and the clinician / patient experience will be augmented. Voice to text is improving and testing of digital assistants that can listen to the interchange between staff and the patient will soon start automatically completing charts for review by the clinician. It will be less about an open laptop screen with staff focused on typing and more about the interpersonal connection with documentation happening in the background. Consistent automated charting will enable care decisions to be made with the assistance of recommendations generated through artificial intelligence algorithms.
Mobile was the beginning of technology for home care staff in the field. It began to change how staff could do their jobs better while traveling and visiting patients.
Mobile provides all the pieces of home care delivery to unobtrusively come together on a phone, tablet, or laptop, depending on the nature of the employee’s work and preference. There are no technology limitations and costs can be offset by efficiency and effectiveness gains.
There needs to be more investment in time and energy to realize the full potential of mobile devices for home care. By looking for opportunities to leverage mobile technology from the perspective of the staff, the patient, and/or the family, the right information can be readily available ultimately improving the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of home care.
[i] Reid-Haughian, C. (2023 March 7) Connecting Home Care. Retrieved on March 6, 2023, from https://cdnhomecare.ca/connecting-home-care-the-missing-link/
[ii] Henningsen, N. (2022 October 26) Staff Safety in an Unpredictable Workplace. Retrieved on March 7, 2023, from https://cdnhomecare.ca/staff-safety-in-an-unpredictable-workplace-2/
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