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Wireless Applications

How to leverage smartphone technologies

Improving communications with smartphones can lead to point-of-care improvements that affect both patient safety and bottom-line savings.

By Trey Lauderdale Q

uick question: What is your hospital’s communica- tion strategy or roadmap?

Chances are either you do not know or your hospital does not have one. The only good thing about this statement is the realization that you are not alone.

I spend a great deal of time with hospital executives, and it would be safe to say less than 10 percent of those I interact with have prepared a communication vision or strategy. This is quite disturbing since we are well aware that the Joint Com- mission has repeatedly reported “failed communications” at the point of care as one of the top root causes of sentinel events (Joint Commission Report, http://www.jointcommis-

If communication is such a fundamental component of healthcare delivery, then why is this not one of the top priori- ties of every single hospital?

I know I am not the only one who stays awake at night thinking about this problem. So when I visit a hospital or healthcare facility considering a change in their communica- tions systems, I consider it to be a matter of life or death … because it is.

Communication tends to be an afterthought in almost every single project at the hospital. Hospital medical systems – such as infusion pumps, lab systems and ventilators – are purchased to complete a number of specifi c tasks. One of those tasks is to notify a caregiver when a condition is not nor- mal or there is an issue. As more systems are purchased and workfl ows are layered on top of each other, the end result is communication overload. The immediate Band-Aid approach to fi xing this problem is to enable each system to send alarms to a dedicated pager or device. Many of the medical system companies have realized the need to enable notifi cation to an endpoint, such as email or pagers, and will even sell a pager

18 July 2012

system with the purchase of the equipment. On top of that, you have middleware products that en- able the consolidation of alarms to one device, which help make great strides in improving communication but decrease the quality of delivery and response. At the end of the day, there is still one fundamental problem: The handsets and endpoints are nowhere near able to consume the amount of data being sent to them; this negatively impacts patient safety and satisfaction.

It’s important that hospitals are aware of how better

point-of-care communication can help not only the clinician and hospital, but the patient as well.

Communication failure is not just an issue that affects patients or internal nurse communications; it’s an economic issue for hospitals. It’s estimated that U.S. hospitals waste approximately $12 billion annually (Ritu Agarwal, “Quantify- ing the Economic Impact of Communication Ineffi ciencies in U.S. Hospitals,” Research Briefi ng, winter 2008) due to poor communication among staff involved with patient care. The loss, as a percentage of hospital revenues, equals 1.93 percent; when juxtaposed against the average hospital margin of 3.6 percent, the magnitude of waste is signifi cant. In fact, studies have shown that improving communica- tions with smartphones leads to point-of-care improvements that affect both patient safety and bottom-line savings in workfl ow (“A Clinician Usability Pilot: Improving Quality of Care and Workfl ow Effi ciencies Using Mobile Technology,” Research study conducted by the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, July 7, 2008. http://www. Results showed that nurses using smartphones clinically:

• Spent 60 percent less time documenting vital signs, saving each clinician 30 minutes per eight-hour shift. • Logged in 12 times per shift, rather than 42 times when


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