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Case study: How Avera McKennan achieved efficient caregiver communication with Voalte Platform

Until recently, caregivers at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, part of Avera Health, a regional healthcare family of 300 facilities, weren't able to communicate as efficiently as they felt technology should allow.

As is the case at many hospitals, they relied on a complex mix of pagers and legacy phones. Basically, they used 1970's communications technology to deliver state-of-the-art patient care and services. As a hospital that has embraced technology to help improve care, operations and the bottom line, management was determined to overhaul their communication system to meet their current and future needs.

Clinicians and other staff lost valuable time transferring calls from department to department and caregivers were interrupted frequently by phone calls. For example, the hospital's process excellence team discovered unit nurses were being interrupted once every 11 minutes—distractions that not only impact productivity, but can also have a negative impact on staff and patient satisfaction. Timeliness was also a problem because most calls had to be routed through a central unit location.

"One of the main issues was not having standardized communication across our departments or disciplines," said Jill Casanova, RN, director of critical care adult specialty at Avera McKennan. She explained that the use of different systems and pagers prevented easy connectivity between caregivers throughout the hospital. "If one unit needed to contact another unit, the call was first routed to their main secretary or main unit phone number to determine who was taking care of this patient in this room and whether that individual was available. This often resulted in multiple call transfers before the appropriate caregiver could be located and could break away to take the call."

Casanova reported that it was clear the hospital needed a long-term, flexible solution that could provide communications capabilities that address the needs of patients, clinicians and other staff. "We also decided our ideal solution should be able to handle all voice, text and alerts through a single platform."

So, the hospital conducted assessments and assembled an innovative, multidisciplinary council comprised of people from several departments, including a process excellence team to identify key challenges and develop a new communication strategy.

They also developed a new communication vision: "To integrate technology into the patient experience such that patient satisfaction, patient safety, staff satisfaction and operational efficiency are achieved."

From vision to reality
Avera McKennan found its answer in Voalte Platform, a healthcare communication platform that leverages the industry's most comprehensive solutions to streamline caregiver communication. Using a core set of technologies that not only powers Voalte products, but also enables healthcare organizations to leverage existing and future technology systems, Voalte Platform extends communication and collaboration across the care continuum. The result for healthcare organizations is more secure, direct and efficient communication.

Avera McKennan currently has 400 shared Zebra MC40-HC devices running Voalte One—the point-of-care smartphone application, used by caregivers throughout the hospital. This includes an advanced directory that enables viewing of unit members by name, role or room. The directory also makes it easy to see staffing, availability and status. The phones are capable of voice, alarms and alerts, and secure text messaging, but a key piece of the deployment was the ability to integrate Voalte Platform with Avera McKennan's alarm management middleware, Connexall. This integration allows the hospital to incorporate critical alarms from multiple vendors' systems to the nurse call system and send certain alarms to patient care techs and the nurse caring for certain patients. Connexall also handles discharge orders, social work orders and medication reconciliation in the pharmacy through this middleware solution.

Benefits of Voalte Platform
The benefits of a single healthcare communication solution like Voalte Platform range from streamlined clinical processes to improved staff and patient satisfaction to operational efficiencies.

According to Casanova, implementing Voalte Platform allowed Avera McKennan to achieve its goal of having a single device for voice, alarms, alerts and text messages. Furthermore, communication no longer exists in silos within departments.

"We see staff communicating not just within their own department, but with other departments throughout the hospital. Taking the "middle man" out of the equation with text to text based communications was a plus for us," Casanova said.

Prior to implementing Voalte Platform, Avera McKennan conducted staff surveys measuring satisfaction rates with the current modes of communication, asking questions such as whether their current communication device allows them to speak with and locate people in a timely manner. Candice Friestad, director of informatics at Avera McKennan, indicated they saw significant improvement in such staff survey measures after deploying Voalte Platform.

Operationally, too, Avera McKennan saw improvements in workflow efficiencies. Clinicians can send discharge order notifications from their electronic medical record system to their Voalte smartphones, eliminating manual notification or phone calls to multiple caregivers.

"In the past, we would notify Pharmacy when we had a discharge so they could help us complete our medication reconciliation. That was a manual process requiring multiple phone calls with Pharmacy. Because of that, sometimes the medications weren't reconciled in a timely manner. Now Pharmacy is looped into that right at the beginning," Casanova said.

And, the number of communication interruptions staff experienced decreased. By allowing caregivers to text one another instead of constantly calling, they no longer cope with interruptions every 11 minutes, Friestad stated.

The modern era of communication is already here, and by eliminating legacy phones and pagers and adopting a streamlined communication solution, Avera McKennan was able to achieve its new communication vision in a simple yet comprehensive manner.

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