At the Healthcare Informatics Health IT Summit in San Diego earlier this month, I spoke about the head-spinning speed at which the clinical communication market is evolving. Just ten years ago, when I started Voalte to bring the Apple iPhone into hospitals for nurse communication, there was unanimous consensus that I had the smartphone platform all wrong. At that time, everyone agreed that the future of healthcare communication was the BlackBerry. Let’s just say nobody in the audience in San Diego a couple weeks ago still shares that view.
Today, everyone recognizes that mobile communication is a necessity in the dynamic healthcare environment. It’s clear that legacy phones, pagers and voice badges with limited functionality will continue to be replaced at a rapid clip by fully functioning smartphones that connect care teams with voice calls, text messages, and alarm and alert notifications. As the market leader, Voalte has deployed more than 50,000 smartphones at the point of care, with thousands more physicians and others using Voalte apps on their personal smartphones.
Contrast the swift proliferation of smartphones in healthcare with the development of the electronic health record (EHR), which evolved over the past 40 years. Epic and Cerner, two of today’s leading EHR vendors, were both founded in 1979, but it wasn’t until 2016 that 95 percent of U.S. hospitals had achieved Meaningful Use of EHRs. It hasn’t been a quick or easy transition, but today the EHR is a foundational system for healthcare organizations, weaving together modules such as clinical documentation, revenue cycle management, laboratory, barcode medication administration, computerized physician order entry, pharmacy and more.
With many hospitals merging much of their critical technology into their EHRs, nobody – myself included – would argue that this incredible infrastructure will play an integral role in healthcare’s future. But I would caution that while your clinical communication platform should be tightly integrated with your EHR, it should remain a separate solution. Here are a few reasons why:
- Clinical communication is a fast-moving industry with important requirements that aren’t suited to be inside the EHR, which is evolving at a much slower pace. For example:
- Validated integrations with FDA-cleared Class II Medical Device software for alarms and alerts.
- Native VoIP integration for role-handoffs, such as virtually passing the Charge Nurse role and phone extension from user to user.
- Real-time integration with physician on-call schedules.
- To follow a patient’s journey throughout the continuum of care, you need the flexibility to integrate your communication platform with more than one EHR to (for example, from an inpatient to an outpatient system), while still relying on a unified user directory.
- Most communication is not part of the legal medical record in healthcare system policies, so should not reside within the EHR.
Next to the EHR, your clinical communication platform is the most pervasive and personal technology for each clinician, and has the greatest potential to affect every patient. That’s because a communication solution like Voalte Platform does much more than text messaging. It’s like the plumbing that enables mobility throughout your healthcare organization via the disruptive technology of the smartphone. Here’s how:
Point-of-care communication – Most healthcare organizations begin their Mobile Communication Strategy with shared smartphones for caregivers at the bedside. Beyond voice, alarms and text, a smartphone solution puts a real-time directory of all hospital staff into the bedside nurses’ hands, and shows at a glance who is available at any given moment. Integration with electronic medical records apps and admission, discharge and transfer (ADT) feeds delivers a wealth of information directly to the point of care.
Alarm and alert management – Technology integrations are key to tying together nurse call, physiological monitors, infusion pumps and ventilators with your communication platform. Using Connexall middleware, alarms and alerts are filtered and routed to the appropriate caregiver’s smartphone for immediate response. With EHR integration via HL7, important events are sent instantly from the electronic record to everyone on the care team who has permission to access that information.
Physician communication – Letting physicians use their own personal smartphones for secure communication is integral to including them in the communication loop. Some important features make an app like Voalte Me attractive to this special user group, such as “ghosting,” or Unavailable mode, and call masking to avoid sharing personal cell phone numbers with the entire staff. By integrating with physician scheduling via our partnership with Lightning Bolt, staff members are always up-to-date with the latest information on physician and clinician availability, and can contact the appropriate person quickly via text message, phone call or pager.
In 10 short years, clinical communication has moved way beyond secure texting to become a foundational infrastructure in the healthcare environment. As the market continues to evolve at a rapid pace, you need to be sure your health system isn’t so far behind that you won’t be able to catch up. If you’re still working with a vendor that views clinical communication as a simple texting app, it’s time for a change.
Trey Lauderdale is Founder and CEO of Voalte.