Equipping CNAs with Smartphones

Categories: Education.

A standard cell phone can do a handful of things. A smartphone, however, can do a thousand things— including helping staff provide better, more responsive care at the bedside. I can speak to this firsthand since, in March of 2013, leadership at Hosparus Inc., based in Louisville, KY, decided to issue iPhone5s to all 54 of our CNAs, in place of their time-worn Blackberries.

Thus far, the transition to the iPhone has been a very positive experience, negating some of the obvious fears — rom misuse of the smartphones to difficulty adapting to new technology.

In this article, I address some of the questions posed by members when I presented on our experience at NHPCO’s 2013 Clinical Team Conference, followed by some tips should this be a change you wish to implement too.

Some Common Questions Answered

How Can Smartphones Improve Patient Care?

There are several ways that we have found the new technology to be helpful:

  • Ease of Use: Simply typing on a traditional cell phone can be cumbersome, especially when entering large amounts of data. Hosparus uses CellTrak for documentation and our CNAs have reported a much easier time documenting the plan of care in CellTrak from their smartphones. This, as a rule, has resulted in more complete documentation.
  • Photos: With a smartphone, our CNAs can quickly send a photo or video text message to their supervisor or other clinical team members to get clarification or direction on a patient issue, such as a new wound not yet noted in the record. Rather than calling for a consultation and waiting to get one scheduled, sharing a photo in real time can address the situation far more promptly. 
  • Videoconferencing: When more complex issues arise, utilizing FaceTime or an application such as Skype can help avoid any misunderstandings or miscommunication, particularly between clinical team members. 
  • Music: The ability to play a patient’s favorite songs from a smartphone, rather than unwieldy CD players, is yet another benefit to CNAs. It also gives the CNA easy ability to access a specific song or artist immediately upon the patient’s or family’s request. 
  • Maps: Rather than having to use a separate GPS device (or a traditional street map), the map tool installed on most smartphones updates automatically with the latest traffic and street information. This can help staff get to the patientmore quickly and safely. 
  • There’s an App for That: Smartphone applications (or apps) are always evolving in the marketplace, and creating innovative business solutions. Employees can use password managers to store and access passwords, task managers to keep their to-do lists up to date, and even help patients find the closest retail outlet for a variety of needs.

It’s important to note that transitioning to the smartphones has also improved staff morale.CNAs can sometimes be the unsung heroes of an organization. They are doing hands-on work with the patient and family, seeing them often and building relationships that ultimately reflect on your hospice. By investing in better technology, with the goal of supporting them in their work, our CNAs have clearly felt more valued and appreciated.

Why Don’t More Hospices Follow Your Lead?
I suspect a variety of factors may be holding some hospices back.

The perceived cost is probably the biggest barrier. Smartphones are certainly more expensive than the standard phone, but the return on investment is high. Usage and maintenance fees can be managed so that the ongoing costs are similar to that of standard phones. At Hosparus, we capped the amount of data each user could accumulate during his or her billing month as one cost-containment measure.

Being able to quickly adapt to the new technology might also be a concern. Data show that the average smartphone user has a higher income and more education than a standard phone user, leading some to believe that the less education one has, the more difficult it will be to use the new technologies.That said,Hosparus encountered very few difficulties when training our CNAs on using the smartphones, most of whom have a high school degree or GED, coupled with certification.

Misusing the tool may be another concern. For example, Facebook, Candy Crush, or even personal email can distract employees from their work; however, this perceived barrier can be applied to any technology, including a personal computer, laptop, or the television in a patient’s home. If you can trust your CNAs in a home environment, where a TV remote is close by, you should be able to trust them with a smartphone.

Tips When Making the Transition

Training:  When transitioning from the Blackberry to the iPhone, Hosparus implemented a training program that focused on introducing the user to the phone and to the CellTrak application. The initial training focused on the very basics of using the new phone, such as how to turn the phone on and off, scrolling, and reading the battery and connectivity meters. More extensive attention was then paid to using CellTrak on the iPhone, providing our CNAs with a step-by-step set of instructions replete with screen shots from the iPhone. This training was thorough and very hands-on, but it only took one hour to get employees ready to use their new devices.

This has been followed by continuing education sessions where we share best practices concerning applications, usage, and communication strategies between CNAs and the clinical team.  We have conducted 10 such trainings since the rollout took place in March 2013.

Policies: Your organization should outline in a formal policy proper use of the smartphone, including permissible applications, music, and fee-for-play activities. Also consider how you will handle an incident of a damaged phone: Will you require the employee to pay for the damage, will the organization cover the cost of insurance to replace the phone, or is there some other option for your organization?At Hosparus, each phone is wrapped in a secure phone case (i.e., Otterbox). If any damage to the phone occurs while in this case, the organization covers it; if the case was removed and damaged, the employee is liable for the damages.

Security: Many organizations have adopted BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies that allow employees to use their personal technology devices, such as smartphones or tablets, which are then supported by the company. These policies have paved the way for more secure data transmission than ever before. Applications such as RedE can encrypt data to provide a secure working environment within the mobile device. Simply adding password protection to a smartphone lends additional security if the phone is lost or stolen.

Don’t Get Left Behind

Current research shows that approximately 66 percent of nurses are utilizing their private smartphones for work purposes — from calling, texting, and doing researching to documenting their visits. Putting this mobile technology into the hands of your CNAs —one of your organization’s greatest assets — can truly make a positive difference in the patient care experience.


Erika Tedesco has spent the last six years in corporate learning for a variety of healthcare organizations. She currently serves as the manager of education and training at Hosparus Inc., based in Louisville, KY, a position she has held since 2011.

[This article was originally published in NHPCO’s NewsLine, fall 2014.]

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