BlackBerry World 2012: Smartphones in Health Care

While it was only able to offer a glimpse of the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 and its next-generation Alpha Dev smartphone, RIM did bring out some of its health care customers to talk about the creative ways they’re leveraging BlackBerry technology at BlackBerry World 2012, which kicked off May 1 in Orlando, FL.

Jon Holmes, Head of Informatics Programme with the Aneurin Bevan Health Board in Wales, U.K., told the audience assembled for a panel discussion how his organization was using BlackBerry smartphones and digital pens to help coordinate the care of elderly patients in the Gwent region of Wales, an area with about 600,000 residents.

Key to the project, he said, was creating a system that would "empower citizens to also play a part in their care" as they reduced hospital admissions as well as the amount of time elderly patients spent in the hospital once admitted. 

The health board worked with RIM, Lan2Lan and Develop IQ on a system that would deliver health care requests to clinicians on BlackBerry devices. The solution also creates  paper records that are given to patients to provide continuity of care across providers, as well as give patients ownership of their own data. Digital pens and specialized digital paper with unique watermarks capture hand-written data that’s then stored in databases for easy retrieval by health care providers. The digital records help provide hospitals with patient information upon admission, as well as records of referrals and previous assessments.

The system has saved the organization more than 600,000 pounds (more than $970,000).

Stateside, at UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh, BlackBerry smartphones are being used to improve patient care and facilitate communication between nurses, lab technicians and the hospital’s telemetry team.

The project began in 2009, when the hospital gave BlackBerrys to nurses. "Back three years ago that was pretty innovative," Haviland said. At the time, the hospital had no mobile phones, instead using a system of pagers and landlines. What it did have, however, was an 802.11 b/g wireless network that it could use to create a BlackBerry-based communication system using only its Wi-Fi network and a Verizon voice plan, saving money on data and texting costs.

Nurses and hospital staff can communicate its custom-created Clinical Handheld Application for Texting (CHAT) app, receive telemetry alerts and access the staff directory on any of the hospital’s 300 BlackBerry Curve 9650 devices. Each nurses’ station has about 20 allotted devices that staff can use with their personal log-in information to keep tabs on individual patients and communicate with staff.

Before implementing the BlackBerry system, Haviland said, each group would generate about a box and a half of paper files each month. Now files are kept digitally. The impact this has had on the staff is significant. Patient care is improved by automatically escalating alerts to senior staff when a response isn’t received by the nurse on duty. "We have greatly improved patient safety," he said. The system has sent more than 100,000 alerts since September and saved over 2,000 nurse-hours per year.

UMPC Mercy has also created a Wander Risk Application to help send alerts for patients with conditions like dementia, brain injuries or mental health concerns that are at risk of wandering off. When patients at risk are admitted, a photo is logged into the system so that it can be went to the network of BlackBerrys, PCs and pagers to alert staff that the patient is missing. "This one has a lot of potential, not just at our hospital but at all the hospitals within the UPMC system," Haviland said. 

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