CA Hospital Jettisons Nurse Communications Gear For iPhones

At Keck Medical Center of USC, nurses will no longer use standard hospital communications gear.  In an effort to simplify and improve communications, the academic medical center is rolling out an initiative placing specialized adapted iPhones in the hands of each nurse.

According to an article in USC’s The Weekly, Keck’s IT leaders  have ordered 300 “specialty” iPhones for  use by the nursing staff. “The idea is to give them one device to do everything,” Keith  Paul, chief technology officer for USC Health Sciences, told The Weekly.

Paul chose to go with the iPhones when the firm installing its EMR said that they could link it with the smartphones. (The EMR is in the process of being rolled out, the paper reports.)

When the devices are completely functional, nurses will be able to receive secure messages from patients and other nurses, as well as emergency alerts, the article notes. The devices, which come with enhanced batteries and a tough casing, will also be able to show when a specific nurse is available.

Nurses are not going to be given their own phones, but instead, will pick up a phone at the start of their shift, entering their user ID and password to activate the device.  At the end of their shift, they’ll be asked to return the phones to a charging station.

One way in which the phones are unique is that they won’t have cellular capabilities. The modified iPhones will function only on the Keck campus, with calls made over the facility’s secure Internet infrastructure.

This is the first time I’ve heard about a smartphone or tablet rollout which crippled the cellular communications functions of the device, but it probably won’t be the last.

As we’ve previously reported, few smartphones are secure enough to meet even half of Meaningful Use or HIPAA requirements, according to ONCHIT. So it makes sense to run voice communications through a hospital-controlled voice-grade Internet network if you have the option (which Keck obviously did). But to date few hospitals (that I know of) have taken the plunge.

What’s equally interesting here is the extent to which the new iPhone rollout superceded investment in standard nurse communication platforms such as, say, Vocera phones. I wonder if vendors of such equipment will see iPhones or other smartphones begin to eat into their market share. What do you think?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.