The State of Mobile Communications in Healthcare: Devices, Infrastructure, and Access

Since 2011, Spok has asked healthcare professionals to weigh in on the development of mobile strategies in healthcare. This year the survey was expanded to include a deeper dive on specific areas of mobile strategies and the results were released in a two-part series.

  • Part 1: The Evolution of Mobile Strategies in Healthcare looks at how hospitals include strategic business and clinical goals in the planning process.
  • Part 2: The State of Mobile Communications in Healthcare: Devices, Infrastructure, and Access presents details around mobile device types and communication infrastructure.

Our data, collected in February 2017, represents more than 300* healthcare professionals from around the U.S. Twenty-two percent of our respondents were physicians, 13 percent were nursing staff, 10 percent were IT staff and 7 percent were executive-level leaders. The remaining 35 percent were an assortment of other hospital roles such as risk managers and mobility engineers.

*This figure includes only respondents who answered more than 75 percent of survey questions.

The Diversity of Mobile Devices

Mobile device usage in hospitals has changed significantly over the last seven years. Smartphone use has continually increased, and 77 percent of respondents report that their hospital supports them. Wide-area pagers are gradually declining but are still used by 50 percent of respondents. And then there are the other devices that show a mixed trajectory. Clearly there is no standard device and hospitals are still figuring out what is most appropriate for different members of their staff given hospital resources, functional requirements, and staff expectations. For this reason, it remains critical that health systems implement communication solutions that are device neutral.

The State of Mobile Communications in Healthcare

Which types of mobile devices does your organization support? (check all that apply)

types of mobile devices

Preferred Device Depends on the User

We know from working with our customers that smartphones are not the preferred device for all staff. In order to quantify our observations, this year we specifically asked respondents about the primary devices used by non-clinical staff. In-house pagers dominate as the device of choice for these roles (48 percent), smartphones rank second (40 percent), and Wi-Fi phones came in third (30 percent). This corroborates what we see and hear at hospitals.

What is the Primary Communication Device For Work Carried by Non-clinical Staff at Your Hospital (e.g. Housekeepers, Transport Technicians, Phlebotomists)? (check all that apply)

Types of devices

Mobile Device Challenges

A picture of the mobile device landscape is incomplete without understanding the challenges users experience as well as the supporting infrastructure. Last year when we asked survey participants if their Wi-Fi network was considered business critical, 83 percent said yes. This year that number increased to 87 percent, revealing that the vast majority of healthcare organizations depend on this component of their communications infrastructure. Given that hospitals rely so heavily on the Wi-Fi network, it is not surprising that hospitals are working to make improvements.

When asked if there are areas of poor network coverage in their hospital, healthcare professionals reported that gaps in Wi-Fi coverage have moved from 65 to 49 percent, while reported holes in cellular coverage have dropped from 75 to 59 percent. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but this shift demonstrates that hospitals are making progress in correcting these hurdles that interrupt mobile communications.

Are There Areas of Poor Network Coverage in Your Hospital? (check all that apply)

areas of poor network coverage

On Being Mobile

Whether to allow users access to hospital systems on personal devices is a question many health systems are still assessing, and there is wide variation in approaches. Some hospitals support full ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) programs, while others prohibit all staff from using personal mobile devices for hospital-related work. And then there is a wide middle ground where BYOD is supported for some groups of staff and not for others. Overall, 59 percent of respondents reported that BYOD is permitted at their organization while 19 percent indicated that BYOD is not allowed in any form.

Does Your Organization Currently Allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)?

does your hospital allow BYOD

Big Opportunities

We asked survey participants what they think their biggest opportunity for mobile communication improvements will be over the next three to five years. Here are a few excerpts from the hundreds of ideas we received:

big opportunities

The Future

In Part 1 of our survey results we found that hospitals have a big opportunity to more closely align mobile strategies with larger hospital goals and bring more clinicians into the planning process. Here in Part 2, which examines the details related to these mobile plans, we found that mobile device types still vary widely across the industry, and the supporting infrastructure for wireless and cellular communications appears to be getting better, though there is still room for improvement.

For more details about the challenges hospitals are experiencing with mobile device usage, the alternative communications in place should cellular networks fail, and whether or not hospitals support secure text messaging and enterprise mobility management solutions, download the report