By Mark Watts
Timing is everything! When a person says a witty comeback at just the right time, the room will erupt in laughter. When a coach gives a halftime talk a team can be inspired to higher performance. In the case of a stroke patient, timing can lead to a successful and full recovery or a life sentence of debilitation.
I have been working with an IT solution that compresses the timeline for the stroke workflow. Artificial Intelligence was used to enhance multiple steps, but it was the thoughtful construction, like the iPhone, and intuitive usefulness of this clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platform that inspired this article.
What is a CC&C platform?
A CC&C platform connects physicians, nurses and other care team members with the people and hospital systems they rely on to provide patient care. It’s a consolidated software application that optimizes how care teams interact and enhances clinical workflows.
The key is to understand the functional capabilities of a best-in-class solution.
First, having a central source of easily updated, accurate directory and on-call schedule information means these critical details can be built into every interaction.
Second, secure messaging capabilities involving the entire care team, including nonclinical staff like transport and environmental services, speed collaboration across smartphones, pagers, hospital-issued devices and desktop computers. This leverages existing tech investments and enables staff to use the best device for their roles.
Third, a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) platform keeps everyone on the latest version of the software and reduces infrastructure and personnel requirements for your IT team.
The three ways a CC&C platform can elevate the level of care at your organization include the following.
1. Improve Routine Care Team Communication
The Joint Commission’s 2021 National Patient Safety Goal #2 is to improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers. More specifically, NPSG.02.03.01 states that organizations need to report critical results of tests and diagnostic procedures on a timely basis. Simply put, how effectively care teams communicate every minute of the day directly impacts the quality of care they’re able to deliver to their patients. These routine interactions span admit, discharge, and transfer (ADT) activities, patient handoffs, consult requests, transport scheduling, the sharing of test results, and more. Done well, they can make all the difference. Done poorly, the ongoing waste of time is frustrating, costly – and even deadly. One study found communication issues were a factor in 1,744 deaths over a four-year period and cost hospitals $1.7 billion.
Unfortunately, communication inefficiencies are common in health care with the rise of different mobile devices, inaccurate on-call schedules, and outdated or missing contact information, as well as disparate technologies that can’t effectively share critical updates. All of these factors hinder swift, effective care communication. If a nurse can’t contact a physician quickly to help a patient manage pain, or a physician can’t find the right on-call specialist for a consult, everyone loses. Likewise, when critical test results are involved, the inability of radiologists and laboratorians to connect with the responsible physician means nurses waste time as go-betweens, which can delay care.
With a cloud-based clinical communication platform, you have a single solution connecting your entire care network and simplifying the process of finding people, groups, resources and data. Having accurate contact and schedule information auto-populating in messages and being able to connect to the EHR for care updates is key to reducing administrative burden.
This means messaging for individuals and groups, rapid response notifications, ADT processes and critical test result communication can occur without wasting time. For example, mobilizing consult order notifications means physicians receive these requests securely on their smartphones and can acknowledge the receipt and close the loop for faster patient evaluation.
2. Swiftly Activate Rapid Response Teams
When a patient care emergency occurs, every minute counts. These situations can include critical codes such as Code STEMI for heart attacks and Code Blue for cardiac or respiratory arrest, as well as sepsis. COVID-19 prone positioning teams are now emerging too. But the process of notifying dozens or even hundreds of staff goes far beyond what can be accomplished with overhead announcements or calling trees.
Lock-step communication is essential to an effective rapid response team and ultimately the patient’s health outcome. Refining every step of these workflows and creating well-documented, well-understood protocols requires the right technology to alert the appropriate providers and staff on their mobile devices and stay on top of emerging requirements. A clinical communication platform provides the tools needed to keep everyone on task and accountable with secure group messaging capabilities, response and escalation tracking, and EHR integration that sends physicians actionable information that informs treatment. These situations can also involve the contact center, which often plays a central role in launching and monitoring the progress of codes from beginning to end.
3. Reduce IT Infrastructure and Extend the EHR
The vast internal IT infrastructures spanning today’s hospitals and health systems are becoming difficult for internal teams to administer and protect. IT teams tasked with being heavily involved in supporting and maintaining new software implementations as well as the associated security policies may find themselves strapped for resources and even expertise. This is a key reason cloud-based systems are gaining traction.
It’s time to alleviate the burden on IT teams, physicians, and nurses, and move to a clinical communication platform that can easily scale as the needs of your health system change. Cloud-native software helps ensure high availability and resiliency without draining IT resources. Plus, with continuous updates, you’ll always have the most reliable, most secure technology to support your patients. With a consolidated platform, you can focus on interoperability and extend the role of the EHR in care team collaboration with actionable information in physician’s messages. So instead of having disconnected applications for on-call scheduling, staff directories, secure messaging and clinical alerting, you have a centralized approach. This means less IT infrastructure and hassle as well as the associated cost of managing too many disparate systems.
Improved patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction
The common goal of hospitals and health systems is delivering the best-possible patient care. Well-coordinated workflows rooted in smooth, secure communication are the foundation of better outcomes and satisfaction rates.
Higher staff efficiency
Looking at clinical workflows through the lens of efficiency often reveals opportunities for refinement, particularly when it comes to communication. Eliminating time wasted calling the wrong on-call provider or hunting for an updated phone number seems simple, but will pay major dividends for all involved, particularly patients.
Better clinician satisfaction and lower burnout
Eliminating longstanding inefficiencies and communication challenges goes a long way toward improving all aspects of care coordination and delivery. Lowering the administrative burden with EHR integration, fewer point systems, and highly effective secure messaging are essential.
Improving the clinician experience can reduce costly turnover, while consolidating point solutions decreases IT expenditures. All-around better care team collaboration improves bed turnover rates. Effective clinical alerting that enables nurses to reach patients faster can also minimize fall risks and the associated costs.
The health care environment is likely to remain unpredictable for some time as organizations struggle to treat the influx of COVID-19 patients. The months and years ahead will contain many uncertainties, but technology that takes a holistic and enterprise-wide approach to communication is an important step toward providing the support care teams require. The stakes have never been higher for patients, providers and hospitals. A clinical communication platform provides the path forward for hospitals and health networks eager for a fresh approach to protecting patients as well as their financial futures.
Is a communication platform the best solution for your health care organization?
Mark Watts is the enterprise imaging director at Fountain Hills Medical Center.