Blog

Transforming Healthcare Communication to Improve Patient Care #NHITWeek

Smiling patient in hospital

During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

Lori Dickinson

I have a friend who is the IT manager for a university medical center in the U.S. northeast. We met 15 years ago when we were working for different hospitals.

Over that time, I’ve been witness to his successful transformation of healthcare communication at his medical center. In honor of National Health IT Week, which celebrates the essential role of health IT in transforming health and healthcare, I asked him to share the story of how IT has transformed healthcare where he works.

Revolutionizing the Way Care Teams Communicate

I asked my friend to think of the one thing his team has put in place that helped most to essentially transform healthcare at his medical center and has made the most difference to the nurses and patients. He said he’s most proud of the way they’ve revolutionized the way care teams communicate.

In 2003 the medical center had about at 6,500 employees. Through acquisition and expansion, today it has grown to about 10,000. Throughout all that growth, communication technology was integral to anything the medical center did.

My friend explained that the value of communication technology, even back then, wasn’t just about making it easier for one person to call another. It was about enabling people to call care teams, to alert code teams, and to send broadcasts hospital-wide for patient events.

My friend and his IT team collaborated with their clinical team to identify the healthcare needs the solution would solve; to explore communication technologies available; and to design, implement and tune their selected solution. His leadership and collaborative approach helped ensure the solution’s adoption and success.

Integrating with Clinical Systems

If the IT team was adding a new clinical system or monitor that could send alerts, they would ask, “Okay, how can we get third-party alerts and alarms to caregivers who are mobile?”

The obvious answer was to send alert notifications to them on their communication badges. This is how the medical center came to send physiological monitor alerts, nurse call alerts, patient wandering alarms, infant abduction prevention alarms, and more through the communication system. A lot of its system integrations are for the safety of ‘at risk’ patients.

The ability to integrate technology for clinical communication and workflow with other systems revolutionized communication.

Taking Fewer Steps, Seeing More Patients

The IT and clinical teams did a steps study back around 2005 – around the time of their initial communication system deployment. They looked at two units, each with two nurses wearing pedometers.

After the communication solution was deployed, two of the four nurses took far fewer steps and the other two took a similar amount but were able to see more patients.

One of two nurses who took a similar amount said the reason was because she was seeing more patients, which she documented in her daily logs and records. She said that by having the communication system, she was able to see and do more, which ultimately helped her and helped patient care.

Instantaneous Notification of Wandering Events

Seven or eight years ago, the medical center integrated their communication system with a patient location system so that when a patient passes by a critical physical threshold, alerts go out on the nurses’ communication badges.

They have choke points near places such as stairwells and elevator banks. If a patient walks past a choke point, which could be 10 feet before an elevator, the entire care unit instantaneously receives an urgent announcement on their communication badges. The announcement indicates the care unit and location, and “wander event.”

A lot of the medical center’s system integrations are for at-risk patients. Wandering is one challenge and patient fall risks are another great concern for all caregivers.

In the early days they integrated their communication system with their nurse call system. And in certain units where there was a high patient fall risk they also integrated bed exit alarms. As soon as there is a weight differential in the bed, an urgent alert goes to nurses’ communication badges.

After integrating these systems, the medical center measured a huge decrease in the amount of time it took for nurses to cancel the nurse call alarms related to bed exits.

If nurses are getting to the room and turning off the alarm in a faster manner, it means they are getting to that patient quicker. This has been a big satisfier for nursing and a positive transformation for patient care.

The Multiple Hats Healthcare IT Leaders Must Wear

In a positive way, IT personnel have been known to help protect clinicians who are very versed in clinical knowledge but not in the intricacies of computer technology.

Clinicians tend to get really excited about possibilities with technology and they don’t necessarily know the potential complications or likely outcomes of certain technical decisions. I asked my friend if he ever needed to work with them to say, “Well, I don’t know that you really want to do that …” I wondered how he had those hard discussions with clinicians.

He said it’s not uncommon for caregivers to come to him wanting to fix an issue by using a communication solution. When they do, he takes a step back with them and makes sure he understands what the true problem is. He always starts meetings by saying, “Let’s define the problem, let’s define our goal. What are our objectives here? What are we trying to do?”

It’s my friend’s view that to be a successful partner with his customers – the clinical personnel – an IT leader has to be able to wear multiple hats.

In addition to understanding servers and system architecture, my friend has to understand what clinicians and care teams do. He says he spends more time in meetings where they’re talking about workflow revolving around patient care and our teams of caregivers than he spends doing anything technical like, for example, maintaining a server.

In his view, communication technology really changed what they do in his medical center. He says a big reason for that is the way it requires them to always start with the clinical workflow and the patient. To him, the bottom line is greatly improved patient care and improved staff satisfaction. To me, my friend is a true representative of how healthcare IT professionals transform healthcare every day.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

Share your story, provide insights and help develop healthcare policy during NHIT Week – focused on catalyzing actionable change within the U.S. health system through the effective use of health IT.

View this year’s calendar of events
Explore this guide on supporting #NHITWeek through social media
Submit an #IHeartHIT Story
Participate in the Virtual March
Explore 10 ways to celebrate in your hometown
See the 2018 NHIT Week partners list, and sign up today