Cloud-enabled communication solutions modernize clinical workflows
By Will O’Connor, MD
For the most part, patients have transformed their personal and work lives with digital technology at faster rates than the healthcare system. The healthcare industry is catching up, however, as documented by a Deloitte study in which about 60% of surveyed healthcare executives reported that their organizations were roughly midway through their digital transformations. These executives noted that the transformation journey was longer than they expected at the outset, and that the next legs of the journey would be built around interim milestones that can demonstrate value quickly (Appleby et al., 2021). One of those milestones should be a clinical communication & collaboration (CC&C) platform.
Communication errors are disturbingly common in healthcare, affecting patient outcomes and care quality. The Journal of Patient Safety reports that almost half of malpractice claims involve communication failures (Humphrey et al., 2022). Fixing these errors is a question of systems, not people. Improving the communications system is critical to improving clinical workflows, and better workflows benefit everyone. Advanced CC&C platforms that put real-time, contextual information into the hands of care team members improve cost, quality, and experience for patients and providers alike.
Finding the right person
Every team member in a hospital, from nurses to administrative staff, asks a simple question regularly: “Whom do I call?” When a child comes into the ER with a potential case of poisoning, who is the pediatrician on call and what other team members need to be notified? When a patient presents with head trauma, who is the neurologist on call? These issues extend from the point of care to administrative tasks such as discharge and patient transport. There’s a posted schedule, of course. But is it right? Are the phone numbers correct? Most clinicians have experienced harmful delays in care because they could not quickly find who was covering for a particular patient.
While that’s a common situation, the problem involves more than just phone calls. So does the solution. To truly fix the issue of missed connections and ultimately improve patient care, a hospital will need to improve its many communication workflows.
New wave of digitization
The healthcare industry is coming off a wave of digitization of health records that took a lot of work, money, and changes in procedures. It’s a good start, but it’s only the beginning of the needed transformation—the industry has work to do that goes beyond compiling records. Gartner Research forecasts that by 2024, half of digital investments in healthcare will focus on improving “situational awareness,” which includes communications and workflows that can operate accurately in real time (Runyon, 2021). Cloud-based CC&C platforms are central components of that real-time vision.
Through automated, role-based workflows, cloud-based CC&C platforms are designed to address bottlenecks in delivering care. By integrating predefined roles with the scheduling system, staff can identify the correct point of contact and call them immediately from within a single application. Role-based communications and integrated scheduling alleviate the need to find a specific person. A staff member simply finds “anesthesiologist” or “pediatrician” in the interface, and they’re connected to the right person—without extra phone numbers to dial or wondering whether they’re calling the correct number. The communication happens securely through the platform.
Advanced CC&C platforms provide a variety of ways to share critical information: video, phone, text, graphics, and more. Some CC&C vendors can integrate EHRs, alarm management and event notification, and other applications into the platform, allowing the right information to be delivered at the right time in the right format. Additionally, administrative dashboards and analytics can help administrators understand who is using the platform and how. Just as importantly, they can see where adoption might be lagging so they can take corrective action and improve outcomes.
By adopting a CC&C platform across the organization, leaders can address top bottlenecks such as patient admission, discharge times, transfers, and specialty consults.
Integrating the patient into the communication flow
Of course, “Whom do I call?” isn’t the only question asked about hospital workflows. Patients and their families might well ask, “What’s going on?”—and rightfully so.
Improving outcomes and workflows goes beyond staff communication and collaboration—it must also involve patient engagement. Being in the hospital is stressful, and patients are often uncomfortable with the environment and processes involved. Reducing patient stress will reduce staff stress. However, synchronous in-person staff communication doesn’t always mesh with the hustle and bustle on a hospital ward.
Advanced CC&C platforms can bring patients into the loop so they know more about what’s going on. Keeping patients informed might sound like something that can be solved without such a platform—just text them, right? But a basic text might not be HIPAA compliant, and requiring patients to download an app to receive secure texts adds complexity and frustration to the patient experience. What if it doesn’t load right? What if a patient who isn’t tech savvy—or who is stressed enough without worrying about their phone—just wants things to work without troubleshooting a download?
With the right technology in place, though, those texts can still happen. Security and HIPAA compliance are critical components of a CC&C platform. The texts just look like regular texts to the patient and family, but they’ve been secured through the platform. Through such a solution, patients can have real-time information about their own conditions. The platform can also be used to contact family members with notifications or requests for information that a patient might not be able to supply.
Humans are hard-wired to resist change, and this tendency is amplified in healthcare. With an easy-to-use CC&C platform, communication experiences can be improved for everyone: patients and families, medical staff, and administrators. Choosing the right CC&C platform ensures staff adoption and enables improved outcomes. Ultimately, it can help your staff do what they got into this industry for: help patients.
Appleby, C., Hendricks, J., Wurz, J., Shudes, C., Chang, C., & Shukla, M. (2021, October 26). Digital transformation: From a buzzword to an imperative for health systems. Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/digital-transformation-in-healthcare.html
Humphrey, K. E., Sundberg, M., Milliren, C. E., Graham, D. A., & Landrigan, C. P. (2022). Frequency and nature of communication and handoff failures in medical malpractice claims. Journal of Patient Safety, 18(2), 130-137. https://doi.org/10.1097/PTS.0000000000000937
Runyon, B. (2021). 2021 strategic roadmap for the real time health system. Gartner Research. https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3999734-2021-strategic-roadmap-for-the-real-time-health-system
Will O’Connor, MD, is chief medical information officer of TigerConnect.