By Will O’Connor, CMIO, TigerConnect.
COVID-19 has amplified troubling pain points in the healthcare sector. Forced to scale delivery of care beyond hospital walls at an accelerating pace, providers are experiencing the limitations of outdated legacy technology and siloed lines of communication. And in full ICUs across the nation, weary frontline workers are stretched thin, summoned from crisis to crisis by an unrelenting chorus of alerts, alarms and pages.
Better communication and collaboration tools, like those deployed in most other industries today, could help beleaguered frontline teams perform their jobs more efficiently and with less stress. In fact, some hospitals already provide their staff with technology that helps them better prioritize nurse call alerts, manage workflows and assignments, and collaborate with physicians, technicians and others involved in each patient’s treatment.
But those are the exceptions to the norm in one of the last industries to undergo a digital transformation. In fact, some 90% of hospitals still rely on faxes, and 80% still use pagers. In many cases, physicians using pagers must carry several at the same time. Communications between care team members and with the patient occur over outdated systems and can delay the exchange of vital information and timely scheduling of treatments. These antiquated communication systems decrease the quality of care and make it harder for healthcare workers to do their jobs.
Healthcare leaders seeking improved efficiency and productivity in their organization’s patient outcomes, financial performance, staff satisfaction, or patient experiences should look first to the quality of their communications. A health system’s communications network provides the channels for critical collaboration between physicians, technicians, nurses and others as they pursue the shared goal of delivering quality patient care.
Platforms that prioritize data integration, patient engagement and collaboration among caregivers not only deliver the best care, but also enable doctors and nurses to do their jobs easier, improve the patient experience and realize the lowest operating expenses.
As physicians, nurses and administrators grow increasingly dissatisfied with the legacy systems still in use at their organizations, more and more hospitals and hospital systems are augmenting or replacing traditional IT infrastructure with cutting-edge technologies. What follows are key features to look for while planning improvements and evaluating available solutions.
Connect care teams in the cloud. Maximize collaboration across roles and shifts by linking the members of a patient’s care team through a shared communications channel. Web-based systems accessible via desktop and mobile devices give caregivers the flexibility to quickly receive and act on information in real time, respond to queries, coordinate treatments and more while on the go, without waiting until they return to their desk or laptop. When staff can instantly share, meet, and act on critical information, they accelerate care and improve the patient experience.
Engage patients through the same platform. Patients are part of their own care team, so keep them in the loop using the same collaboration system the team uses. Solutions modeled after consumer-grade apps offer text, voice and video capabilities that most patients will be able to use intuitively. Borrowing a page from more customer-centric industries, some systems are able to map a “patient journey” of previous communications, treatments and follow-ups that give care team members context to improve the patient experience.
Link the healthcare ecosystem. Collaboration can span entire networks of hospitals, clinics and providers. Link owned and affiliated facilities and enable care team members to deliver the right data to the right recipient, instantly.
Solve alarm fatigue. Among the many advantages of smartphones over pagers and audible alarms is the ability to provide contextual awareness. Collaboration solutions can now combine nurse call, alarm and event management, medical device interoperability, and clinical workflow analytics that transform noisy, disjointed alerts into timely, targeted communications. This gives nurses real-time, contextual information with each alert that comes to their mobile device or desktop so they can work smarter, prioritize responses, and efficiently coordinate care. Location tracking features adjust assignments to specific responders based on proximity, workflows and urgency.
Properly use and leverage the EMR. Some health systems are still seeing communication as an EMR feature rather than a critical standalone system. An EMR is a system of record and information that is not designed for communication. Providers attempting to use the EMR for communication are failing because they are non-inclusive, closed systems that are not designed for communication. They don’t include everyone and they have difficulty connecting with other communication systems like physiologic monitors and nurse call. Instead of using the EMR to communicate, forward-thinking providers are connecting the EMR to their communication systems where the valuable information contained within can be leveraged across a communication network.
The COVID-19 pandemic, rising consumer expectations, physician and nurse burnout, and the financial pressures on hospitals show that it is past time for a digital transformation of the healthcare industry. Healthcare leaders who recognize a need for greater collaboration at their hospitals won’t find the answers they seek with the old guard of technology companies.
They must instead look to new standards of innovation, including the cloud, mobile devices, instant messaging and video calling. A platform to serve today’s healthcare providers must improve quality, lower risk and costs, and create a better experience for patients, doctors, nurses, and care teams across shift changes and locations.