As I travel to hospitals around the country talking to doctors, nurses and Information Technology professionals, I hear a growing demand for better interdisciplinary communication. For my colleagues outside of healthcare, I’m referring to the vital communication that takes place between hospital nurses, physicians, therapists, Pharmacists, Radiologists and others who need to collaborate on a particular patient’s care.
Andrew Burchett, DO, Chief Medical Information Officer at Avera Health, says this communication between physicians, nurses and the rest of the care team has always been a challenge. Historically, when a nurse had a question, he or she would call the doctor’s practice, and the front desk receptionist would page the doctor. Everyone would then wait until the doctor called back, and by that time the nurse was likely to miss the call after moving on to another patient. The whole cycle would start up again with another call by the nurse to the doctor’s practice. You can imagine the frustration when it takes a half-hour for a nurse to reach the doctor with a simple question about a patient’s care.
This raises another common concern I hear, which is regarding security. When nurses, doctors and others are frustrated by disjointed communication, they might be tempted to skip steps by using a personal smartphone to text a photo of a patient’s X-ray to a specialist, or send an image of a skin rash to a Dermatologist. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, this constitutes a breach of the federal HIPAA Privacy Rule, which is designed to keep personal medical information private. Just a couple weeks ago, Modern Healthcare reported on this problem in the story, “Confusion over HIPAA leads to violations.”
With personal smartphones being a security risk, and old-fashioned pagers being inefficient, today’s healthcare organizations know they need a better solution. That’s why I’m so excited about our latest version of Voalte Me, an app that doctors use on their personal smartphones to exchange secure text messages and make phone calls to nurses using Voalte smartphones inside the hospital. Now, a nurse can send a text message directly to the doctor. If the doctor is busy with a patient, he or she can simply send a text back to the nurse when finished. We call this “asynchronous communication,” but it’s basically the way all of us have become accustomed to communicating by sending text messages to friends and co-workers.
Avera Health, based in Sioux Falls and covering five states, is a great example of a health system that’s dedicated to improving interdisciplinary communication. Nurses at several Avera hospitals have been using Voalte smartphones for the past few years to reach others working inside the hospital. Now, doctors working outside the hospital are being brought into the loop.
“Using Voalte Me, we can easily find the appropriate nurse in the directory, then communicate directly with him or her at the bedside, without having to search around to find out who is caring for our patient,” Dr. Burchett says. “Ultimately, we’d like to get rid of the old dinosaur pagers. We have around 300 physicians and 150 residents using Voalte Me currently. Within a year and a half, we plan to have all of our approximately 1,000 physicians on Voalte Me.”
Next up, Voalte will integrate with physician scheduling software, so nurses and others will be able to see exactly which doctor is on call and how to best reach them. This not only saves a lot of time, but also prevents the delays and frustration of a doctor getting a call or text when they are on vacation in the Bahamas.
It’s a great feeling to have solutions for problems that have existed for so long. If your hospital is ready to bring doctors into the communication loop, please reach out to me so we can find a solution for you.
Dennis Gallagher is Vice President of Strategic Accounts at Voalte.