Sometimes, big changes in how we work and live are driven by technology. Think smartphones, for example. At other times, social change and technological innovation dovetail perfectly to help us reimagine what we do.
In healthcare, over the last decade, the focus on outcomes-based care has coincided perfectly with advances in network-based communication to open a new world of patient experience solutions that produce results for hospitals and the public. And with the coronavirus pandemic upending various aspects of healthcare delivery, this new breed of solutions, built on a foundation of secure, integrated networks and smart digital devices, can help healthcare providers meet the challenge.
“This idea of better providing services to patients, helping them stay informed and engaged during the course of their stay — educated about why they’re there, how they can get services and, ultimately, empowering them to be active participants in their care — has become the foundation of our software development,” explains Robin Cavanaugh, chief technology officer at GetWellNetwork, a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that offers a family of solutions, including GetWell Inpatient, which creates personalized, digital workflows to engage patients in their care. “We’ve found innovative ways to deliver that experience on devices in the hospital environment.”
Chief among those devices is the in-room television. Along with the ubiquitous pillow speaker, the hospital TV tends to become the center of a patient’s world during a hospital stay. Until recently, the TV was a one-way entertainment medium. Today, it’s a smart, networked internet display capable of much more: entertainment, for sure, but also personalized education, information, interaction, and — increasingly — face-to-face communication.
“For so long, you’ve had this old TV mounted in the corner, offering little information and keeping patients somewhat disconnected from everything around them,” Cavanaugh says. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve that experience, first by deploying capabilities in set-top boxes and now by aggressively integrating networked patient solutions into a new breed of smart TVs.”
Smart TVs Support a Variety of Healthcare Solutions
Smart TVs combine a traditional TV display with a built-in computing device and network connection. This all-in-one design makes them more reliable and manageable. “They eliminate external TV components, so they’re easy to install in rooms,” says Dennis Mathur, senior vice president of technology at Boston-based Aceso, developer of digital solutions for delivering personalized content and services to patients. “For installation, all that smart TVs need is a network connection. At the same time, they integrate with important in-room devices, such as pillow speakers.”
Companies like Aceso, GetWellNetwork, MDM Healthcare, Sonifi Health, TeleHealth Services and TVR pCare have reinvented patient experience using the tried-and-true television system as a healthcare portal. Their comprehensive offerings vary, but when a healthcare provider has the right information technology infrastructure in place and a network of smart TVs — securely integrated with electronic medical records (EMR) and other systems — each solution can deliver a variety of patient amenities in support of outcomes-based care, including:
TigerConnect released its annual “State of Healthcare Communications” report, a survey of healthcare leaders and patients detailing the pervasive challenges in healthcare communications. The survey confirmed the fragmented state of communication in healthcare – with many organizations still heavily reliant on landline phones, fax machines, and pagers, and the adoption of modern communication technology often happening in silos.
“Adoption of modern communication solutions has occurred in every other industry but healthcare,” said Brad Brooks, chief executive officer and co-founder of TigerConnect. “Despite the fact that quality healthcare is vital to the well-being and functioning of a society, the shocking lack of communication innovation comes at a steep price, resulting in chronic delays, increased operational costs that are often passed down to the public, preventable medical errors, physician burnout, and in the worst cases, can even lead to death.”
In fact, industry research shows that communication inefficiencies cost a single 500-bed hospital more than $4 million annually (NCBI) and worst case, can lead to death, with communication breakdowns estimated to be a factor in 70% of medical error deaths (JMIR).
Our latest research sought to better understand the state of healthcare communication today and how technology solutions can foster better communication and collaboration in healthcare. Specifically, the survey found 90% of organizations are still using fax machines and 39% are still using pagers. Additionally, nearly 40% of healthcare professionals say that it is difficult to communicate with care team members, contributing to bottlenecks at various touchpoints when moving patients through the healthcare system.
Moreover, the majority of healthcare organizations – 52% – experience communication disconnects that impact patients daily or multiple times a week. It is also worth noting that non-clinical staff greatly underestimate the frequency of communication disconnects that impact patients. Clinical staff members were nearly three times more likely than non-clinical staff to say communication disconnects impact patients on a daily basis.
Survey findings include:
Communication in Healthcare is Broken:
The healthcare industry is still heavily reliant on 1970’s technology, with 89% using fax machines and 39% using pagers among some departments or roles, or even organization-wide.
Communication channels are badly fragmented in healthcare, with groups across the health system all using different tools to communicate.
Despite a growing mobile workforce in healthcare, landlines are still heavily relied on. Landline communication is the top choice of communication when secure messaging is not available – used 29% of the time. Among organizations using secure messaging it still ranks number two – used 25% of the time.
Hospital managers want to be sure that hospital staff constantly improve their skills and share relevant information with their colleagues. Automated solutions cannot become a substitute for a discussion where healthcare professionals can exchange their knowledge and share their ideas, but routine tasks can be arranged in the form of a workflow portal.
Usage of such a portal has a number of advantages:
It will help employees to save their time;
It will enable hospital managers to assign different access privileges to users, thus restricting access to medical data;
The portal can automatically create and send out reports like the ones covering employee performance.
This portal can be used to create its own medical knowledge base for the hospital.
A hospital is a place where like-minded people work and spend much time together. Not to lag behind other healthcare professionals, hospital staff must keep abreast of the latest trends and developments in medicine. However, being extremely busy during their working hours, the personnel has not time to discuss medical trends and developments on the fly: according to the National Center for Health Statistics the mean wait time in U.S. emergency departments increased 25 percent, from 46.5 minutes to 58.1 minutes from 2003 through 2009.
A hospital communication portal seems to be the right choice in this case. However, it should be noted that developers of custom hospital software and such portals in particular must pay close attention to the specifics a medical organization has.
The portal will enable the personnel to share valuable medical information, such as aspects of people, companies, news and other things of interest in a convenient, efficient, and fast way. Besides, it is important to give users an ability to comment.
Users would have their own profiles enabling them to connect directly with each other. The profiles could also include basic information on departments where users work, room numbers, working hours, specializations, and more.
Capabilities of the portal could be extended further by adding elements of social networks by making it possible for users to upload videos and images, tagging other users to them, etc. A general chat or forum could also be launched. All in all, the portal could become an important part of the HRM reporting system and assist hospital managers in managing sources and personnel.
Such a portal has the potential to become much more than a communication tool. It could become an effective hospital automation tool:
It seems increasingly disingenuous to frame health IT as being “revolutionary.”
For one, digitization has already swept nearly every other industry. The iPhone was a revolution in communication, but after generations of iterations and imitations, smartphones are normal, and consumers have adjusted their expectations accordingly.
To bring electronic health records (EHRs) into American hospitals and clinics is less a revolution, and more a remediation. That arguments continue over whether this upgrade will prove practical, valuable, or beneficial to patient care and clinical outcomes at all reflects that this evolution has been a top-down endeavor, rather than a true bottom-up transformation.
Despite rhetoric–and plenty of earnest optimism–the EHR rollout has been incremental, administratively-guided, federally-mandated push toward adoption. It has been a crawl toward process improvement more in the mode of Six Sigma than a grassroots “reset” button on the fundamentals of healthcare.
The true revolution–the one that patients and caregivers alike desperately need–is not merely technological, although technology may be our next best hope for realizing it.
A Mental Problem
Healthcare needs to unify behavioral and physical health, treatment, and discourse.
While physical medicine is climbing the next hill with respect to primary care provider (PCP) shortages, interoperability quagmires, and meaningful use (MU), behavioral health is facing the same primary challenges it has since well before health IT became such a hot topic.
Namely, recognition as a legitimate and necessary component of whole-person wellness and medical treatment.
But on both the side of care providers, and patients, physical health has been rigidly siloed away from behavioral health. Even EHRs have been shoehorned through America’s hospitals while behavioral health clinics have been barred from accessing incentive money. Their exclusion from the development table means fewer solutions and platforms exist at all for those facilities and caregivers who want to embrace digitization, because developers have been preoccupied with MU compliance.
Since the beginning of what is known as the “Information Age,” paper has been viewed as a canvas to document ideas, record relevant material and deliver messages to prospective readers. Continued innovations in technology have given billions of workers the ability to connect seamlessly — oftentimes with little effort. Convenience and efficiency are deemed topline must-haves, as we have handy cloud services that digitize essential materials like images and documents. Thus, common tasks like writing letters or printing receipts are now seen as passé as they can be streamlined or, in some cases, avoided altogether by utilizing email, apps and/or direct electronic messages.
Paper serves as a conduit for information to be shared easily among several parties. Because of this, until there is one other common denominator that everyone can recognize, paper and the need to utilize it will remain evergreen for people of all ages. As the original device of modern communication, paper has long held its position as a lifeline for several industries, most notably in healthcare. As an industry that adopted mobile working styles to great effect, healthcare has still seen the use of paper as a mission-critical component to their quest of providing quality patient care. For instance, in the health sector, paper is required for appointment and insurance documentation, differentiating prescriptions for patients and communicating clinical decision-making and objectives.
As one of the standard ways of utilizing paper, printing is also seen as a surefire way to quickly and succinctly relay a set of messages into a clear, readable format. But with several tech vendors proudly touting their robust “paperless” capabilities in an effort to curb waste and conserve ink, it begs the question – in the long run, where will paper end up for our communication needs? Outside of the workplace, does it still make sense to consider printing and paper “dead” when it was one of the first sources of communication? Will it serve us or become obsolete in our electronically-dependent world? No. In truth, paper, in tandem with printing, will always be around in some capacity.
Today, one of the growing general notions of technology is that electronic sources of communication have eclipsed functions that were previously considered the norm. However, in the workforce, printing is a central, vital function. But what advances will industries have to do to maintain innovation and relevancy in an increasingly digital world? Continued flexibility to support mobile and BYOD work styles, compatibility with cloud documents and the bandwidth to securely support multiple print devices within a single environment are a few features that can the healthcare sector evolve with the technological curve while still maintaining some of its classic characteristics.
Guest post by Terry Edwards, president and CEO, PerfectServe.
Each day, healthcare professionals need to communicate with colleagues, patients and others outside of their organization. These communications often contain critical information about dosage changes, requests for a consultation and other healthcare information that can have life-or-death consequences for patients.
From email and texting to calls and overhead pages, there are a dozen different ways healthcare professionals can communicate with one another. Many of these modes of communication are fairly new, and clinicians are still continuing to teach each other the rules of the road and associated etiquette.
But as healthcare transforms to be more focused on value-based care, it’s becoming even more important to get this right. To coordinate patient care across the patient’s entire journey within the health system, clinicians need to know how to reach each other in the best way. Although communication is an essential part of the job for clinicians, a recent survey of 955 healthcare professionals1 conducted online by Harris Poll and commissioned by PerfectServe, shows that clinicians aren’t always communicating in the way that they’d prefer.
Find a way to speak in person when possible: For complex or in-depth conversations within their organizations, healthcare professionals say they prefer to speak face-to-face (41 percent for physicians; 37 percent for non-physicians). This preference is particularly strong with nurses, with 55 percent of nurses surveyed saying their preferred method is face-to-face communication for complex or in-depth conversations with physician care team members. Speaking in person allows clinicians to focus on the conversation. Many of the clinicians I work with say taking time to speak in person gives them the opportunity to build a stronger rapport with their colleagues, which can make it easier to foster care coordination.
Think before picking up the phone: Phone calls are by far the most frequent form of communication with care team members outside their organization. More than half (55 percent) of clinicians say they most frequently use a phone call to connect with physician care team members outside of their organizations, and 48 percent most frequently use the phone to communicate with non-physician care team members outside of their organization. But while everyone is picking up the phone, only about a quarter of clinicians actually prefer phone calls for that kind of information sharing (29 percent for brief communications with physician care team members outside of their organization; 25 percent for outside non-physician members). In my work with clinicians, many say that the ring of the phone is an interruption to their work, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) of clinicians reported that they often receive pages or calls that are of low priority, which disrupts patient care.
There have been dramatic changes to the look and feel of healthcare communication and collaboration technologies over the past few years. The demands of healthcare reform have shaped new challenges not previously seen or imagined, and in turn have spawned the development of entirely new solutions to meet those needs.
As healthcare professionals discover new and broader uses for healthcare technology in patient care, one goal remains – driving efficiencies that bring the nurse back to the patient’s bedside, which in turn improves both the quality of care and patient experience. In doing so, technology solutions must also defy the four walls of the hospital to connect clinicians across the care continuum whether or not they are physically on site.
As healthcare communication technology has progressed, the topic of mobility has become hotter than ever. Today’s hospital workforce needs to be increasingly mobile and collaborative. This requires solutions that are no longer defined by time or location. Healthcare employees are constantly on the move, and must be able to securely connect from anywhere to answer questions and respond to emergencies. Naturally, communication systems that can keep up are in high-demand. When a clinician has the ability to instantly locate the resources and information he or she needs, while in transit, treatment delays and medical errors are prevented.