A growing number of doctors and nurses around the world today are using mobile healthcare technologies to treat patients inside hospitals, but in the next four years, the use of mobile devices is expected to explode as more and more functions are added to improve patient care.
That's one of the main conclusions of a new "Future of Healthcare: 2022 Hospital Vision Study," which was commissioned in 2017 by Zebra Technologies, a vendor of handheld mobile computers, barcode scanners and other devices. The study, which was conducted by research vendors Research Now and Lucid, included survey responses from more than 1,500 nursing managers, IT decision makers and recently hospitalized patients who were asked about how mobile healthcare technologies are used today. The responses came from participants in the US, Brazil, China, UK, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and in United Arab Emirates.
By 2022, the number of bedside hospital nurses using mobile devices to care for patients is expected to rise to 95 percent, up from today's 65 percent, according to the study.
The increases are expected to be even higher among hospital pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, according to the study, with mobile device use jumping from 42 percent today to 96 percent by 2022. Lab technicians will also see large increases in the use of mobile devices in the next four years, with an expected 96 percent using the devices, up from 52 percent today.
Overall, the respondents reported they expect up to 97 percent of nurses and 98 percent of doctors to be using mobile devices for patient care by 2022.
One of the biggest benefits seen by the trend is that by using mobile devices for patient treatment, it is improving the quality of patient care by reducing medical errors, specimen labeling errors and other mistakes, according to 72 percent of the study's respondents.
That is significant, Chris Sullivan, Zebra's global healthcare practice lead, told ITPro Today. It means it is "improving patient safety, with less errors in tasks, and has improved communications among caregivers, surrounding the patient as a team of healthcare professionals."
At the same time, hospital patients accept the use of mobile healthcare technologies for their care and recognize their use as a positive tool, giving doctors, nurses and others better connections with them, said Sullivan.
"That was an 'aha moment' that was really interesting and positive, to see that the patient adoption was strong," he said. "Respondents also indicated that it lowers healthcare costs by some 55 percent," while eliminating some preventable errors and freeing up caregiver time for other needed tasks.
The expansion of mobile devices in patient care, including tablets, smartphones, handheld computers and other small devices, is also seen as a motivator for new uses inside hospitals, including for wound care management, medication management, IV pump management and other tasks, said Sullivan.
"We often talk about the tool belt for clinicians can be many things," including a phone, a scanner, a pager, a camera and more. "We're seeing a single mobile device designed for healthcare functions that can integrate five different tools in a single device."
That's expected to continue to expand in the future, he added.
The study, which was vendor agnostic, was the first healthcare study commissioned by Zebra.
Bryan Bassett, an enterprise mobility deployment analyst with IDC, said what stood out most to him in the study was the time efficiencies that continue to be gained my medical professionals when they are using mobile devices to care for patients.
Bassett called the trend "transformative," and said he expects to see mobile devices take "businesses to new places" through the creation of more efficient workflows.
"Families of patients are often located elsewhere and can't be with them but can now use the mobile devices [in hospitals] to teleconference between patients and families, reducing their stress and fear," said Bassett.
The downside, he said, is that while hospitals and healthcare providers continue to expand the uses of the devices, the underlying regulations and formats for bringing them in "aren't quite defined yet" and still need refinement.
"They absolutely love it once they get it down, but it's not quite a turnkey operation," he said. "You do have to take your time, consult with professionals and be sure your strategy or road map is right."