A Mobile App to Facilitate Socially Distanced Hospital Communication During COVID-19: Implementation Experience

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2021 Feb 23;9(2):e24452. doi: 10.2196/24452.


Background: COVID-19 has significantly altered health care delivery, requiring clinicians and hospitals to adapt to rapidly changing hospital policies and social distancing guidelines. At our large academic medical center, clinicians reported that existing information on distribution channels, including emails and hospital intranet posts, was inadequate to keep everyone abreast with these changes. To address these challenges, we adapted a mobile app developed in-house to communicate critical changes in hospital policies and enable direct telephonic communication between clinical team members and hospitalized patients, to support social distancing guidelines and remote rounding.

Objective: This study aimed to describe the unique benefits and challenges of adapting an app developed in-house to facilitate communication and remote rounding during COVID-19.

Methods: We adapted moblMD, a mobile app available on the iOS and Android platforms. In conjunction with our Hospital Incident Command System, resident advisory council, and health system innovation center, we identified critical, time-sensitive policies for app usage. A shared collaborative document was used to align app-based communication with more traditional communication channels. To minimize synchronization efforts, we particularly focused on high-yield policies, and the time of last review and the corresponding reviewer were noted for each protocol. To facilitate social distancing and remote patient rounding, the app was also populated with a searchable directory of numbers to patient bedside phones and hospital locations. We monitored anonymized user activity from February 1 to July 31, 2020.

Results: On its first release, 1104 clinicians downloaded moblMD during the observation period, of which 46% (n=508) of downloads occurred within 72 hours of initial release. COVID-19 policies in the app were reviewed most commonly during the first week (801 views). Users made sustained use of hospital phone dialing features, including weekly peaks of 2242 phone number dials, 1874 directory searches, and 277 patient room phone number searches through the last 2 weeks of the observation period. Furthermore, clinicians submitted 56 content- and phone number-related suggestions through moblMD.

Conclusions: We rapidly developed and deployed a communication-focused mobile app early during COVID-19, which has demonstrated initial and sustained value among clinicians in communicating with in-patients and each other during social distancing. Our internal innovation benefited from our team's familiarity with institutional structures, short feedback loops, limited security and privacy implications, and a path toward sustainability provided by our innovation center. Challenges in content management were overcome through synchronization efforts and timestamping review. As COVID-19 continues to alter health care delivery, user activity metrics suggest that our solution will remain important in our efforts to continue providing safe and up-to-date clinical care.

Keywords: COVID-19; adoption; communication; hospital; inpatient; mHealth; mobile app; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Communication*
  • Hospitals*
  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Physical Distancing*