On a Friday night, a cancer patient is admitted to the hospital with severe pneumonia and fluid-filled lungs. Through most of Saturday she gasps for breath before the doctor on-call arrives. Though she is in pain, the physician is hesitant to call in the pulmonologist, who's busy with a more critical case.
By evening, though, he requests a consult. The nursing staff tries to reach the specialist but can't connect with him for several hours. When he arrives at last, he immediately orders the patient's lungs be drained.
What went wrong here? One could argue a lot of things, but inefficient communications and poor collaboration top the list. Would putting better communications tools in the hands of medical professionals have made a difference? How would it have changed the patient outcome?
Let's rewind and see.
With more robust communications tools, the staff admits the patient on Friday night and immediately sends an emergency text to the patient's primary care physician. In turn, she texts her practice's on-call doctor and asks him to examine the patient.
Although the pulmonologist is held up in ICU, the covering doctor asks the specialist and attending nurse to join a quick conference call. From the nursing station, the doctor and nurse use a desktop computer to connect. The pulmonologist joins the call from his smartphone. It takes just five minutes for the team to agree on a clinical plan.
Reduce frustration, improve patient care
The lesson: Cutting even a few minutes from the time it takes to connect medical professionals can vastly improve patient outcomes and the patient experience. Not only that, but it improves the healthcare providers' bottom lines. A hospital risks losing up to 2 percent of its Medicare reimbursement if it doesn't achieve required patient satisfaction levels.
In fact, the financial consequences of inefficient communications are so serious that The Joint Commission (TJC) identified improved effectiveness of communications among caregivers as one of its goals for 2018.
Hand-offs between healthcare professionals – when the patient is transferred from one department to another, or from one caregiver to another – are prime opportunities for errors. It has become such a pain point that TJC issued a Sentinel Event Alert and accompanying infographic focused on inadequate communications hand-offs.
One of their tips for improvement: Caregivers should communicate face-to-face, using video conference tools if they can't be in the same physical space, to allow for the time and opportunity to ask questions. "If information is coming from many sources," TJC urges, "combine and communicate it all at one time, rather than communicating the information separately."
Enhance collaboration with technology
Unified communications (UC) solutions offer collaboration tools that enable healthcare professionals to take quick, accurate and effective actions. Here's what to look for when evaluating platforms:
Collaboration between healthcare team members. Ninety percent of staff bring their personal smart devices to work. But with UC, it doesn't matter which device healthcare professionals use to communicate and collaborate. APIs enable multiple devices to connect via specific communications applications. Any communications technology solution must have the capacity to share rich data – patient information, test results and more – and allow caregivers to communicate via video.
Real-time access. Clinicians might be on-site or off-site, on-call or off. Your communications technology should allow users to easily update their availability status for everyone to see. This makes it simpler for care team members to know the best way to reach one another, whether it's a direct call, an instant message or a video chat. And with hand-off capabilities, staff members can take their numbers with them wherever they go and answer calls on any device. This eliminates the need to carry multiple devices, and the organization can dramatically reduce cellular and other paging service expenses.
Easy, cost-effective administration. Communications technology can be housed on-site, in the cloud or through a hybrid solution. This results in a lower total cost of ownership while also allowing for scalability if a facility expands or acquisitions occur. A good system should be intuitive too; users should be able to easily set up the mobility user app and require little-to-no assistance from facility IT staff. Finally, management of the mobile UC system must be accessible via a web-based management system.
Unified communications makes it possible for medical professionals to significantly improve patient outcomes . With patient information and tools such as email, webchat, SMS, video and voice fully integrated, collaboration is just a click away and connecting staff quickly and easily is possible no matter where they are.