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As a registered nurse for 25 years, Darlene Duncan has witnessed digital technology transform many facets of healthcare. Surgeries have gotten less invasive, bedside telemetry has gotten smarter, and medical records have all gone electronic. Yet, when it comes to clinical communications, Duncan feels like she’s stuck in the 1990s.
Duncan carries three separate devices at work: a beeper, a charge nurse flip phone and a voice-activated device to locate her team. None of these devices enables electronic health record (EHR) access or real-time communication with physicians. For effective communication in healthcare, Duncan says clinicians need one device that lets them talk, text and access information on the fly.
Simply put, they need secure smartphones.
“Our greatest continuing challenge is timely communication,” says Duncan, a nurse manager at a large, level-1 trauma center. “I need one device to communicate with my staff and physicians, and to interface with the EHR. Instead, I have all three devices, all the time, physically attached to me. Even the physicians in our hospital use a very antiquated beeper system.”
So, what challenges do clinicians like Duncan face without the benefit of secure mobile clinical communications?
1. Delayed Nurse/Physician Communication
Ninety percent of hospitals still use pagers for clinical communications, according to HIMSS Analytics. These systems cost roughly 45 percent more than hospitals would pay for smartphone-based unified communications. Worse, they slow clinicians down and can delay patient care.
“Sometimes I don’t even need the doctor to call me back,” says Duncan. “I just need to inform him about something, but I have to page him, and he has to stop and call me, and I have to stop what I’m doing to answer the phone. Other times, I have a patient in a critical state, and I need the doctor now. If I could call or text directly, it would save time and potentially lives.”
Delayed nurse/physician communication also affects the patient experience, Duncan says. “If I say, ‘Let me call the doctor, I’ll be back in five minutes,’ and it takes 30 minutes, there goes a little bit of those patient satisfaction scores, which directly affects reimbursement through HCAHPS scores.”
2. No Mobile EHR Access
Healthcare is an inherently mobile profession, with doctors bouncing from hospital to clinic, and nurses rushing from one patient room to another. Yet, in many organizations, hospital communications are anything but mobile. Instead, clinicians can only access patient medical records from shared computers in hallways or nurses stations. That amounts to a lot of wasted time, delays in updating information and excessive charting.
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By providing a gateway to secure mobile EHR, smartphones enable clinicians to access and edit patient records directly from the bedside. This way, information is always up to date and nurses can save time on charting later.
“Currently, I’m sitting in front of the computer and charting at least 50 to 60 percent of each 12-hour shift,” says Duncan. “With mobile EHR access, I would easily save at least an hour a day.”
3. Alarm Fatigue
Hospital inpatients have a lot of needs. Sometimes they just need an extra pillow or help going to the bathroom. Other times, they need life-saving assistance quickly. Yet, in many cases, nurses must go into the patient room to determine if the need actually requires medical attention or if another staff member can help. This wastes precious time and can lead to alarm fatigue.
The average hospital experiences tens of thousands of alarm signals per day, according to the Joint Commission. Between 85 and 99 percent of those alarms don’t require medical intervention, and the volume of alarms can distract or desensitize nursing staff, leading to delays in care.
With smartphones, nurses can simply call the patient room to ask what they need. Many modern clinical communications solutions can even be integrated with bedside equipment and nurse call systems to filter out false alarms, prioritize patient requests and send notifications about important alarms directly to nurse smartphones.
4. Medical Errors
Care providers are only human. Between staffing shortages and communications overload, it’s easy to see how mistakes happen in hospitals. In fact, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., contributing to 250,000 fatalities each year, according to Johns Hopkins.
Any way that hospitals can alleviate communications overloads and automate workflows can help to prevent tragic and costly medical mistakes. For example, smartphones with integrated barcode scanners can support positive ID applications such as barcoding medication administration. These solutions alert clinicians when they’re about to give a patient the wrong medications or medications that aren’t yet due.
Duncan says effective hospital communication is worth the investment. “Budgets are tight for all hospitals right now, but all it takes is one misstep, one patient to die because of a lack of communication, and that’s a loss that costs much more than smartphones” — to say nothing of the potential legal fallout.
5. Security Breaches and HIPAA Violations
Nurses know that more effective communication in healthcare is possible, if only they were allowed to use their smartphones. However, when care providers use their personal phones for clinical communications, they’re more likely to violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations by sharing patient information via an unsecured channel or network. Lost, stolen or hacked personal devices can also lead to costly data breaches.
In 2018, 365 healthcare data breaches were reported, up almost 2 percent from 2017 and 83 percent from 2010. Those data breaches cost hospitals roughly $380 per record, on average, states the Ponemon Institute.
That’s why some leading hospitals are empowering their teams with secure clinical communications solutions that deliver the benefits of mobile, without the additional risks.
Duncan says her staff is ready for smartphone-based communications. “We’re past ready. We know the technology is there. If we could just get all the birds in one basket, and make it hacker-proof, it would save us so much time and frustration.”