Sutter Care at Home reaps big benefits from tablet deployment

The third time was a charm for a large home care agency's quest to integrate mHealth technology into its practice, and the benefits range from improved data sharing to greater efficiency by clinicians to better communications and teamwork by mobile caregivers, as outlined in a case study.

Sutter Care at Home, which serves nearly 100,000 homebound patients across 23 counties in northern California, also provides hospice services, home infusion therapy, respiratory care and home medical equipment. About a decade ago, it began deploying laptops to its 1,300 caregivers, but obstacles popped up fast. The devices were cumbersome to travel with, caregivers couldn't always count on reliable connectivity and the necessary daily syncing interrupted workflow. Four years later Sutter Care still hadn't completed the computing rollout.

"We got to a breaking point and we had to decide, 'Do we try to fix all the issues with the existing system?' We could have done that, gone back to square one and do it all over again. But we decided that if we're going to spend millions doing that, we better make sure we pick the right horse," Phil Chuang, chief strategy officer and former director of information services, says in the case study.

So Sutter Care chose smartphones as its next mobile tech 'horse,' but while easier to transport and better in terms of connectivity, the small screens and minimal computing capabilities presented a whole new set of challenges. There were also hurdles with accessing Sutter's EHR system and no way to view faxed documents.

In a few years, Sutter switched mHealth strategies again. The third approach, using 7-inch Android tablets, has proven to be the winning prescription, says Chuang.

Not only do tablets eliminate previous obstacles, they presented new benefits such as access to 4G connectivity, email communication access and greater multi-tasking capabilities. Caregivers are able to access new patient full records in field where in the past they had to visit an office to get faxes documenting patient history. The turnaround time for documentation also improved, Chuang says.

"Our prior standard was to have documentation completed within 72 hours of the visit; now, our clinicians complete documentation with 24 hours," he says. "Visits on subsequent days now have up-to-date data for review and necessary follow-up."

The tablets also enable improvement in wound care. Home care nurses can use a tablet's camera and send photos securely to the office for inclusion in a patient's electronic medical record. Previously wounds were documented using digital cameras, often causing time delays in uploading images and there were concerns with security and patient privacy.

Clinicians can directly order medical supplies, where previously they had to call the agency's medical supply vendor, a time-consuming process that introduced the potential for error. The technology, coupled with the formulary, cut medical supply costs by 20 percent per visit in the first year that the tablets were used, Chuang says.

For more information:
- read the case study

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