Over the past 19 years, I have spent a lot of time observing and documenting clinical workflow processes at hospitals across North America. In the past few months, I’ve focused most of my time shadowing several health unit coordinators (HUCs) to understand current communication practices and analyze the flow of information that keeps each unit running prior to implementing Voalte Platform.
I’ve always known HUCs play a crucial role by performing numerous functions within a nursing unit or department. After spending so much time with them recently, I have a much deeper appreciation for the volume of work and extreme multi-tasking these healthcare workers perform on every shift. I played four years of college football, so I like to think I know something about rigorous workouts, but HUCs work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Over time, this role has been referred to by multiple names, including Health Unit Coordinator (the term preferred by the professional organization, National Association of Health Unit Coordinators), Unit Secretary, Hospital Unit Clerk, Information Coordinator and so on. No matter what you call them, HUCs are the communication hub in hospital care areas, with many different people and roles in the patient care process relying on their hard work. Their job responsibilities generally include tasks such as:
- Work with the Charge Nurse to ensure a smooth shift and get directly involved with care of the hospitalized patient under the direction of the RN and providers.
- Handle beginning-of-shift duties, including staff assignment, phone/pager distribution and whiteboard completion.
- Help patients by responding to nurse call requests and obtaining needed services from nurses, licensed practical nurses, physicians, aides and other hospital personnel.
- Answer telephone calls and provide information, relay messages and transfer calls.
- Act as a liaison for communication requests (nurse-to-nurse, nurse-to-provider, support staff requests, paging requests, transfer requests and so on).
- Document patient care services, arrange patient transport services and discharges.
- Maintain unit operations by following policies and procedures, and report needed changes.
- And much, much more!
As I’ve shadowed these dedicated professionals recently, I’ve recognized that they face major roadblocks every day:
- They feel the pain of workflows and technologies that don’t work together.
- They feel the pain of technology that is thrown over the fence to units and departments without understanding how the HUC works.
- They struggle with nurse call workflows that require multiple steps to accomplish a simple task.
- They are held accountable to relay critical information amid frequent interruptions.
At a recent hospital visit, I spent hours watching a HUC struggle every time a nurse call request came to the central station. The HUC was expected to page a patient care tech on a pager via the nurse call console for certain requests, or go to a different computer at the desk and message an RN on a phone via the attendant console system. Each time, manually checking a paper sheet to verify the number of the phone assigned to the current RN covering the patient room location. Each time, dealing with numerous interruptions. Each time, struggling to verify the notifications actually made it to the right person.
When hospitals decide to purchase and deploy technology in a silo, without considering the communication dependencies, they create chaos for HUCs. When vendors compete for budget and selfishly position non-integrated workflows, they contribute to these challenges. When all involved implement projects that don’t account for the systems and processes required to provide the best patient care, they make the lives of HUCs harder – even if the individual solutions are best-in-class.
While my days shadowing HUCs were some of the most demanding since my ball-playing days, I’m proud that Voalte takes the time to understand how each unit works before implementing new processes and technologies. It’s vital that we listen to those responsible for the smooth flow of information, and work with them to coordinate the implementation of technology that makes their lives easier.
Last week was National Health Unit Coordinator Day. I salute them and the great work they do every day!
Eric Brill is General Manager of Clinical Solutions at Voalte.