When it comes to mobile device selection, healthcare professionals have a wide range of form factors, platforms, and manufactures to choose from -- rugged devices with professional-grade barcode scanners, off-the-shelf smartphones, tablets, and other variations are available from dozens of different companies.
Matching the right hardware to the application is critical. If you select the wrong device, it could frustrate users, decrease productivity, and ultimately lead to a failed implementation.
Pairing your application needs and hardware will be easier if you ask these important questions during the mobile device selection process:
What form factor is best for your application?
The use case will dictate the type of device you deploy. If the application requires a lot of manual data entry, you might need a notebook. If users need to look at radiology images, a tablet provides larger screen real estate. Talk to the end users about how they do their work, where they work, and what conditions they encounter.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. If the majority of the end users are comfortable with a smartphone, try to use that form factor or something as close to it as possible, provided it meets your other requirements.
Is the device multi-functional, and what integrated peripherals does it support?
Over time, clinicians have found themselves juggling multiple mobile devices: pagers, smartphones, VOIP phones, barcode scanners, and other gadgets. Now, there are multi-purpose devices (both rugged and consumer grade) that can help converge all of this functionality, including voice, secure text, speech-based input, barcode scanning, and alerts. Look for a device that can help reduce the hardware burden on the staff, as well as the support burden on your IT staff.
Peripheral support is another key consideration in mobile device selection. Most consumer-style devices may include a camera that can be used for barcode scanning, for example, but scan-intensive applications require the type of enterprise-grade scanner found in rugged devices. Outfitting a smartphone with an external scanner or other peripherals adds to the cost of the device, and creates new points of failure in the hardware.
What are the key device requirements?
Develop a mobile device requirements list based on your application and the environment in which your clinicians work. Key considerations include battery life, screen size, operating system support for applications, power management features, and wireless network options (do you just need Wi-Fi, or cellular as well?).
In a hospital environment, the device's drop rating is also important. Staff will drop the computers on the concrete floor, probably multiple times. A rugged device can withstand these frequent falls. Mobile devices used in a healthcare setting also have to be able to withstand the harsh chemicals used to wipe down or sterilize computer equipment, and withstand exposure to liquids.
Should you purchase a consumer or ruggedized mobile device?
This mobile device selection decision is often based on cost alone, but it shouldn’t be. Consumer-grade phones and tablets are usually less expensive and provide a familiar user interface that can cut down on training time. For organizations pursuing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) hardware strategy, consumer devices are guaranteed to be part of the mix.
However, enterprise-class devices usually have performance and support advantages and will last longer in a demanding healthcare environment. While consumer devices may be less expensive, replacement costs for broken devices can quickly add up. There are also added support costs because the operating systems and other software are updated more frequently. According to VDC Research, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for consumer tablets is 51% higher than that of their rugged counterparts.
The continuously growing variety of mobile computers and phones available can make mobile device selection seem daunting. Asking the right questions and focusing on your own organization's use case and requirements will make it easier to choose the right hardware.
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