A trusted, enterprise communication platform improved our teamwork and patient care

Every second counts when a patient is waiting in the emergency department or admitted to the hospital. So, when clinicians can connect quickly and coordinate care faster, every minute saved brings patients closer to the care they need and closer to going home. Efficient and effective communication is critical for us at South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, one of five trusts in Northern Ireland. During a hospital stay, 10 minutes saved here, and 10 minutes saved there can add up to one bed-day saved.

Achieving the aims of the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. requires providing timely and effective care, which ultimately depends on having a reliable and modern communication infrastructure. How to build that infrastructure is up to each Trust, an integrated organization that incorporates acute hospital services, community health and social services. We decided the best way to be successful and meet our goals was to build an infrastructure that empowers our staff and supports the Vocera communication system enterprise-wide.

Innovating to Improve Patient Care

In 2010, the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, was the first hospital in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust to implement Vocera technology. The new Downe Hospital replaced an outdated building, and we wanted our technology and services to match the state-of-the art hospital facility.

Before adopting Vocera technology, our doctors and nurses customarily paged each other or shouted across wards to communicate. If they wanted to call someone directly, they had to look up the person’s phone number, find an available phone to make the call, and then likely play phone tag. Frustrated nurses and consultants often wasted valuable time searching the ward for whomever they needed. It was not efficient, nor was it ideal for the well-being of staff or the patient experience.

Vocera technology made a significant change to the way care teams work, improving communication and patient flow throughout the hospital. There was no more wondering who was available or calling and waiting for a response. A few years after the success at the Downe Hospital, we implemented Vocera technology throughout the new Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Northern Ireland. We started with the wearable badges and added the Vocera smartphone app. The Vocera system is designed to scale and spread innovation, which is exactly what we wanted to do when we expanded the communication solution to the Ulster Hospital. The results have been a strong return on investment.

Scaling and Spreading Innovation

During a 2017 renovation of Ulster Hospital, the facility replaced its large inpatient wards – each with 28 beds and a nurse’s station – into areas with 30 single rooms and three nurses’ stations. As a result, the hospital had to figure out how nurses could get assistance and communicate with each other, doctors and support services when the they were caring for patients at the bedside. Vocera technology was the solution.

Meanwhile, there was a surge in patient volumes in both the emergency department (ED) and hospital admissions this past year. Clinicians in the ED at Ulster Hospital have noted that Vocera technology has improved our ability to better handle those spikes. Our consultants, or physicians, don’t need to worry about knowing who is on call for a specific specialty, so they can focus their attention on making clinical decisions. They can connect with the right colleague by simply speaking the role name into the hands-free Badge or smartphone app. The smartphone app also shows who is available. The Vocera technology allows care team members to do their job without wasting time looking for people, which means delays in care are minimized.

Patient safety was another a key factor for selecting and expanding Vocera technology. If there is a life-threatening event and a nurse needed help, she does not need to leave the patient’s bedside to go call someone or find assistance. Staff also feel safer in certain areas because they know that with a touch of a button on the Vocera Badge a broadcast is sent to every member of the department if they need help.

Connecting Systems and People

Vocera has also made a big difference in stroke care. Our ED nurses used to call the stroke team on cell phones, but it wasn’t always easy to reach physicians when they were busy. Now nurses use secure messaging to alert the stroke team or an assigned group. As a result, there have been fewer delays in evaluating and treating stroke patients.

We have also integrated Vocera technology with several clinical and operational systems, including the cardiac arrest and emergency buttons in each room, as well as nurse call and bed exit alert systems. When patients who are not strong enough try to get out of bed, there is always a risk of the patient falling. An integration between Vocera technology and bed exit alerts helps safeguard patients. As soon as a patient steps out of bed, it starts an alarm, which sends an alert directly to the patient’s nurse via their wearable badge.

Bed managers, who triage patients as they arrive at the ED, use Vocera technology to communicate quickly with other wards and the bed management team, which provides real-time insight into available beds and improves patient flow. Similarly, efficiency with prepping operating rooms minimizes delays, which means more cases can be performed.

When a patient in the ED needs emergency surgery, staff use Vocera technology to quickly assemble the right people and resources across the hospital to an available operating room. Vocera technology enables the surgical coordinator to see which operating rooms are available and to communicate with the surgical nurse to confirm the surgical team is ready for a new patient. Then, they call an anesthetist and a surgeon to the OR.

One of our ED physicians said Vocera technology is helping reduce his cognitive load; and as a result, he can better focus on patient care and making complex clinical decisions. He really likes the ability to text colleagues securely and rapidly on the Vocera smartphone app without going through a switchboard or having to look up phone numbers. He also finds that people are answering or returning calls promptly and he no longer needs to hunt people down in the hospital.

Prescriptions are also getting filled faster because physicians have a more efficient way to connect with the pharmacist. Direct communication helps speed up the discharge process when patients need to get medications before they go home. Overall, Vocera technology helps our staff members work together better as a team. A seamless experience of care makes care teams, families and patients much happier.

Mark Kendall has been the Telecommunications Manager at South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust since 2006.

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