By Tim Gillis, Director of Business Development for Healthcare Solutions at Stratix |

While hospitals tend to have robust technical infrastructure – including secure wireless networks to support a range of mobile devices – homes, hospices, and other palliative care facilities rarely do. Nonetheless, healthcare professionals in remote environments can provide sophisticated care and leverage critical patient data using laptop computers, tablets, and even smartphones paired with diagnostic and treatment toolkits using Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

A majority of the population is familiar with Bluetooth technology thanks to earbuds or other smartphone functions. In fact, one of the greatest advantages of Bluetooth is that it’s relatively simple for users of all skill sets to wirelessly connect (or “pair”) devices to one another. In a healthcare context, this enables functions like oxygen, heart rate, and blood pressure monitoring along with microcurrent pain therapy.

This, in turn, enables visiting caregivers to carry a basic virtual clinic with them as they make their rounds. Some patients can also use such devices for self-care and monitoring. There are now an abundance of different types of Bluetooth-enabled healthcare devices available for home or hospice care.

But, as with most digital technologies, even the easiest to use sometimes fails. And when any digital device stops working as expected, most users can be completely lost.

The use of wireless healthcare devices in a non-hospital context comes with data security and related HIPAA compliance considerations. This might mean that home users or even professional caregivers will not be fully empowered to pair or configure attached devices on their own. This work may need to be done by authorized professionals.

Providing technical care for health caregivers is a critical and fairly specialized service sector. It is distinct from conventional IT support because of the range of devices involved and the unique aspects of wireless connectivity.

Large-scale healthcare systems may be able to retain suitable resources to support remote staff and patients. For most providers, the more practical approach is to outsource such services. Here are the considerations:

Are the devices coming from a central, managed resource or are users able to self-provision?

Providing devices to users with reasonable controls is the best way to assure that they are fully charged, configured, connected, and working properly. This minimizes complications in the field, and it gives Technical Support a baseline of understanding of the set-up in the event of a malfunction.

If users will be self-provisioning, every effort should be made to ensure they obtain the specified equipment and have configured it as required. A middle ground is supplying the Bluetooth device(s) for attachment by the user to their own laptop or tablet. This is best achieved by having a formal “equipment check” when the device is first put into service to assure everything is to spec and working properly.

What do you do in the event of a malfunction?

Even the best equipment will suffer the occasional glitch. Most often, users press the wrong button and find themselves disoriented by screens or device behaviors they don’t recognize. While the issue may be trivial, the situation can feel critical in a healthcare context. This calls for on-demand technical support.

As noted above, regular IT support is often not prepared for the vagaries of mobile and Bluetooth-connected devices. Such devices use their own operating systems. Specialty support may be able to leverage remote access tools specific to mobile devices which regular support may not have or use. It is strongly recommended that a care provider organization that uses mobile and Bluetooth-connected devices in the field have qualified technical support available on-demand during the periods when the devices are likely to be in use.

What’s required for routine maintenance?

Depending on the types of devices involved, the equipment should be routinely returned to technical support for maintenance. This can include proactive battery replacement, sanitization, and a configuration check. There may also be firmware updates that need to be applied for security purposes.

Inspection for normal wear from regular use may mean the device needs to be retired and replaced. If appropriate, the device itself may need to be reconsidered for its suitability for the intended purpose. Staying ahead of these needs can mitigate the need for emergency field support and the stress that goes with it.

All such maintenance should be logged, along with the status of any certifications. This can be critical in the event of any critical malfunction that requires forensics.

The ubiquity of mobile and Bluetooth technology makes them accessible and user-friendly platforms for use in healthcare delivery. But the special considerations for use in a healthcare context require specialized service and support.

As with any other aspect of healthcare, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

About the Author

Tim Gillis is Director of Business Development for Healthcare Solutions at Stratix. He brings 18 years managing mobility projects in Healthcare Information Technology and Home Health.Tim has delivered various solutions from managing wearable sensors in Class II medical devices to Home Health EMR solutions and services supporting software platform solution such as Homecare Homebase, Medtronic, Epic and Vivify.

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