With adoption of mobile technology growing in health care, a software company called Voalte is introducing an iPhone messaging application in several hospitals across the United States designed to improve communications among patients, nurses and clinicians.
Voalte One for iPhone is a unified communications application that allows nurses and clinicians to connect through voice, alarm, text and instant-messaging on a secure network within a hospital facility. It allows calls to be placed on the hospital's VOIP system through WiFi connectivity and integrated PBX (Private Branch Exchange), a type of private phone service for a specific location.
Short for "voice, alarm, and text," Voalte also lets users log messages for accountability. Patients benefit from the service by pressing a bedside alarm when seeking help. The signal then travels over WiFi to a nurse's iPhone.
"Antiquated communications solutions, such as voice-only devices, are no longer adequate in the hospital environment because both parties must be available in order to communicate," Trey Lauderdale, vice president of innovation at Voalte, said in a statement.
On June 14, Voalte announced plans to deploy its application on iPhones at the Nebraska Medical Center, a 624-bed academic hospital in Omaha. Other facilities implementing the application include Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Josephs, Mo., Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., and Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.
"Partnerships of this sort continue to validate our commitment to increasing nursing excellence and patient safety," Lauderdale said. He aims to replace the older pagers and bulky VOIP phones that can't withstand heavy use.
"Communication is an essential ingredient for excellent patient care," Dawn Straub, Nebraska Medical Center's director of nursing professional practice and development, said in a statement. "We recognize the importance of smartphone technology and how it can give our nurses more time with their patients."
Meanwhile, Heartland deployed Voalte on 275 customized iPhones with the first pilot floor going live at the beginning of the year and additional employees' phones in April.
Among the biggest benefits to using Voalte is an increase in response time for nurses in the hospital, according to Julia Jacobs, a registered nurse at Heartland.
"We can call doctors, we can page them directly to our Voalte phones, which is helpful because we don't have to sit at a desk and wait for them to call us back," Jacobs told eWEEK.
"It's just made a big difference in terms of doing asynchronous communications, allowing you to send a message and go about your business without having to wait for someone to pick up on the other line," agreed Dr. Joe Boyce, Heartland CMIO.
"It's helped a lot in terms of quick one-way messages and not having to waste a bunch of time with the formalities of conversation," Boyce told eWEEK. "It increases the speed of communication significantly."
The texting feature is particularly helpful when seeking assistance from other staff to help lift patients out of bed or give them a bath, Jacobs noted. Nurses also text prescriptions to the pharmacy on the floor, she said.
"The installation demonstrates Heartland's understanding of how smartphone technology can drastically improve patient care and response time," Voalte's Lauderdale said.
The iPhones in the hospitals lack a SIM card, so they don't operate outside the facility, according to Boyce. "We are still working with Voalte on how we're going to do secure messaging outside our building and do text messaging to the physicians. That's still a development to come."
Although Voalte also has a version for the Apple iPad and RIM BlackBerry, Boyce prefers the compact size of the iPhone over the iPad's larger size. "You could do it, but I just don't see nurses carrying around an iPad as easily as they will an iPhone," he said.