Why NYU Langone, UCSF Medical Center, and more are investing in tablets for patients' bedsides

Several hospitals are offering bedside tablets to patients and their caregivers to make the hospital stay more comfortable and keep patients informed about their medical condition, Fran Kritz reports for the Washington Post.

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What the tablets can do

The tablets, sometimes referred to as "interactive patient-care systems," are loaded with apps that patients can use to engage with their providers and their care plan. For instance, the apps give patients information about their medications and dosage, daily care schedules, procedures, and test results. Some hospitals also use the devices to display photos of the care team and details about what the patient has to do to be discharged. Patients can also use the tablets to order meals, control the lights and heat in their rooms, and message with the nurses on duty. 

Why hospitals are adopting tablets

Barry Runyon, an analyst with Gartner, estimated 20% of hospitals in the United States currently offer interactive patient-care systems, but he expects that even more hospitals will start offering the tablets in the future.

According to Kritz, hospitals are investing in the systems in the hopes that they will increase patient engagement, reduce hospital readmissions, and make their facilities more competitive. 

"We hope patients tell their friends and relatives about the systems and that they are a factor they consider when choosing a hospital," said Jonathan Austrian, medical director of inpatient clinical informatics at NYU Langone Health.

James Fitter, chief executive of Oneview Healthcare, based in Australia, which has sold several interactive systems to U.S. hospitals, said the apps "give patients, who have so little control over what's happening to them in the hospital, some control over their environment and comfort."

For instance, having an interactive patient-care systems allowed Shannon Olson to get more sleep when her daughter Emilia was hospitalized at the Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital for 10 days. Instead of having to stay up for the nurses' final rounds, Olson logged into the app each morning to view Emilia's hospital chart, according to Kritz.

"It made it so much easier knowing that all of Emilia's updated chart information was available to me on the tablet," Olson said.

Hope Prochnow, whose daughter Anna has been hospitalized numerous times due to being born with trisomy 13, said being able to view the projected discharge date in Anna's chart helped her figure our "what needed to be accomplished for Anna to go home."

Why some providers (and patients) are wary

Meanwhile, some clinicians have raised concerns about how the tablets could affect their workload and responsibilities. For example, some physicians and nurses have expressed concern that the system's messaging system would add to the emails and voicemails they have to sift through at the end of the day, Kritz reports.

Further, research has found that it's not uncommon for hospitals to task nurses with training patients on the interactive systems—and one study found the learning process can be challenging. According to the study, some patients experienced "navigational errors and technical challenges" when using the apps. Other patients said they experienced "anxiety and uncertainty" when trying to figure out how the apps work, according to the study.

How hospitals are addressing provider concerns

But some hospitals have already employed strategies to reduce clinician involvement with the systems, Kritz reports. UCSF Medical Center, for instance, hires volunteers to help familiarize patients and their families with the new devices.

Further, Ann Scheck McAlearney, a health services researcher and health management professor at Ohio State University College of Medicine, said that clinicians are "feeling better about the systems even though they're not perfect." She added that as the interactive tablets latch on, hospitals "will need to provide more guidance and training to both patients and clinicians about the best way to incorporate system use into the care process" (Kritz, Washington Post, 4/7).

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