The digital transformation of hospital communication

In healthcare, care team collaboration is experiencing its next phase of digital transformation, combining the power of various communication technologies, interoperability with various types of clinical data, and real-time situational awareness.

Increasingly, many clinical events are driven by real-time sensors that monitor patient status and trigger action by care teams. So, it is imperative that smart hospitals and real-time health systems have a communication and collaboration platform with the intelligence to understand these events, know which clinicians are available to respond, and route the alert or message with appropriate patient context to the right person or team. Intelligent system integrations deliver actionable alerts and notifications with contextual information and simplify clinical workflows, saving valuable time and reducing interruptions, thereby mitigating cognitive overload and elevating clinician well-being.

Learning from Two Digital Transformations
The digital revolution and situational awareness will transform the patient and caregiver experience in the healthcare industry just as it did in the entertainment and navigation industries.

In navigation, prior to digitization, people used atlases and large folding maps. If you were planning a road trip and worried about construction delays, you might join AAA and request the hand-notated maps a couple weeks ahead of time. If you were concerned about the morning rush-hour commute, you had to turn on your radio and wait for the disc jockey to hand over the program to the traffic guy reporting live from the sky.

Then came mobile GPS systems for your car, which were quickly followed by smartphone-based navigation systems. Initially these were little more than digital maps that displayed a relatively accurate “You are here” arrow. Gradual and then rapid iterations improved these systems’ abilities to provide directions and alerts, including the ability to update the route depending on the driver’s actions. Today these technologies provide real-time, and even anticipatory, context. They can alert users ahead of time to expected traffic delays based on intuitive data (including data submitted from other users of the same technology), suggest faster routes at any point along the way, display search results within the map for every type of business or entity, and easily share locations or directions that any other mobile-device user can access.

Likely in the not-too-distant future as automobile, communication, and navigation technologies become more integrated, digital navigation will do things like: suggest you stop at your favorite gas station close to work because your car is low on fuel; and based on real-time traffic analysis, you’ll have time, especially given the fact that you just received a notification on your smartphone that your 8:30 a.m. meeting was canceled. This digital transformation was made possible by important contextual information about the user and her surroundings.

Examining the digital revolution of consumer entertainment starts with DVDs and VHS tapes. Blockbuster was still going strong —and then came Netflix. The first disruption was based on the ability to select movies online and receive them by mail. No longer did those seeking the latest in Hollywood entertainment need to put on something other than sweatpants and venture out into the world. Today, of course, we don’t even need to walk to the mailbox. We can simply stream any genre from just about anywhere; or download it and watch it anytime on any device.

But even before Netflix became a streaming service, it elevated the consumer experience by providing recommendations to customers based on what they watched and how they rated the movies they viewed. This preference assessment set the stage for the personalization and niche entertainment we all enjoy today. Here again we see the dramatic impact of utilizing contextual information about the user, their preferences and their environments to transform the experience.

Turning back to healthcare, let’s examine the digital revolution of hospital communication and collaboration for care teams, where a similarly transformative disruption is underway.

Examining the Evolution of Hospital Communication
It all started with yelling down the hall, which is actually the communication method still used in some hospitals today. Then there were overhead paging systems. While a seemingly reasonable method of reaching on-site staff, these broadcast alerts disturb patients at rest, worry family members, and provide little if any information as to the nature of the request, and leave open loop communication with no sense of whether a connection has been made.

In the 80s, healthcare began to move more toward a device-to-device communication model, specifically phone-to-phone and phone-to-pager. This method was helpful for reaching clinicians who were off-site, but not at all helpful if the clinician had her hands full caring for a patient. These early devices also lacked the ability to share any visual information or automatically pull in details from other systems. There was also no way of knowing if the clinician even received the message.

From there, the model evolved to a person-to-role/person-to-group approach, which was intended to enable clinicians to more easily reach specific types of clinician(s). If a trauma nurse was needed, for example, all trauma nurses (or a specific subset) would receive the same alert. This was helpful in the sense that the alert reached the right “kind” of clinician—but contained little context and did not provide visibility into who was responding to the alert. In the early 2000s, the launch of a wearable communication badge introduced the hands-free power of intelligent, voice-controlled communication. In 2019, this technology evolved again with the introduction of a new Smartbadge combining smartphone usability with hands-free communication.

As voice-controlled technology in the consumer market gains wider adoption, it is important to remember that voice-controlled assistants have had a foothold in the healthcare industry for nearly two decades. The use of voice-controlled assistants by healthcare workers has expanded because it has simplified communication and collaboration with other team members. Nurses and doctors generally use their hands to provide direct care to patients, and a voice-controlled device keeps their hands free so they can easily and quickly respond to an inquiry or ask for assistance, which during an emergency can make all the difference.

Using a hospital’s intelligent communication system, all a doctor needs to do to find a patient’s nurse is push a button on their mobile device and say “call room 408 nurse.” The system will instantly route to the nurse assigned to the patient in that room, eliminating the need to pick up a phone, look up a number, find a name, or send a one-way or overhead page. Better yet, if a nurse is often making calls to a particular department, the communication system can learn this preference and route the conversation more easily.

Intersecting Technology and Humanity
With the increasing prominence of the Internet of Things (IoT), communication technology has become a powerful force driving smart hospitals and real-time health systems. Using interoperability, intelligent workflow engines, and artificial intelligence, a single communication platform can help safeguard patients by preventing patient falls, treating sepsis sooner, speeding up decisions for surgical procedures, and alerting clinicians to potentially adverse events before they happen.

Alerts with patient context or real-time situational awareness might come in the form of an automated communication that a patient is attempting to get out of a Wi-Fi connected smart bed. Or it might instead be a broad-based alert that the patient has successfully completed a given treatment, letting all care teams know the subsequent actions they are responsible for can now be conducted—or that a complication has arisen, and certain actions need to be delayed. Once again, it is the contextual information about the user, in this case the nurse or doctor and her environment that can transform the experience for the user in the same way we saw in navigation and entertainment.

As more communication technologies emerge in healthcare, it is important to ensure that calls, texts, alerts and other notifications coming from these systems and various devices do not add unnecessary stress and cognitive load to clinicians. Communication software and mobile devices used in healthcare must have the intelligence to limit and route actionable alerts. Nurses and doctors are often inundated with notifications from patient monitors, ventilators, nurse call systems, EHRs and more. With the right system, every type of alert generated can be evaluated, and notifications containing patient information and situational context can be sent to the right care team members on their devices of choice. An intelligent alarm management system, just like an intelligent navigation system or an intelligent entertainment system, can make a significant impact on improving patient care, safety and satisfaction, while reducing alarm fatigue and clinician burnout.

As the digital revolution in healthcare continues, it is critical to ensure new solutions are designed with the patient in mind. Unlike the entertainment or navigation industry, new technology in healthcare must be designed in a way that supports the well-being and human-to-human connections of the people involved.

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