Devices & Technology

Digital Messaging Improving Hospital Communication and Care Reviews

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By Judith L. Kanne, RN, BSN, BA, contributor

September 10, 2013 - Following hospitalizations, patients are often asked to complete surveys as a critical component for feedback and follow-up. They answer questions about their hospital experience, including how they felt about their care, whether pain medications were delivered on time, and if their room was clean. They even report on how staff members made them feel during their stay.

Integrating the patient’s experience is on top of the list of what separates one hospital from another, and many hospitals are now using digital messaging boards to remind and encourage caregivers to give it their best, while providing patients with important reminders, too.

Perceptions of care make a difference

While patient outcomes are tantamount in health care, patients’ feedback and their perceptions of the quality of care are more important than ever. The HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey has become the leading tool to gather patient perceptions and provide standardized data for publicly reporting information and, ultimately, for helping determine hospital reimbursements.

Among other things, the HCAHPS questionnaire measures how well nurses and doctors communicate with patients, how responsive the staff is to patients’ needs, whether it was too noisy to sleep, and how well patients understood the medication or other treatments they received. And many of these factors can be influenced by digital messaging.

Doable, actionable and memorable messaging 

“Through compassionate, supportive, and engaging messaging, healthcare providers can comfort patients and caregivers,” explains Kara Tarantino, director of marketing for Vericom Corporation. “This increases patient satisfaction, educates audiences by helping to reduce hospital readmissions, and empowers individuals to ask questions.”

The goal is to create a better patient experience while elevating a patient’s perception of the quality of care they received.

Vericom Corporation helps hospitals, health plans and physician offices communicate more effectively at the point of care. Their health care digital signage provides actionable messaging where patients, employees and physicians work, wait, eat and congregate. Visually compelling educational messages are relevant to where the audiences need to see them most, and have the best chance to directly influence patient care and the patient experience.

What Tarantino suggests is that “people need information that is ‘doable’ and ‘actionable,’” and that type of messaging is where their attention lies.

Vericom digital messaging shown in hospital waiting room.
Hospital waiting area with digital message reminder in the background. Photo courtesy of Vericom Corporation.

In waiting areas. As an example, hospitals can capitalize on waiting times, especially in places like the emergency department, where the average visitor spends more than four hours, according to a 2010 Press Ganey survey. Today, many patients can call ahead for wait times and some signs will display wait times when patients arrive.

“Why not make it an ideal setting for providing the latest health information on prevention, first aid, weight management, and more?” asks Tarantino. Digital signage in waiting areas can help hospitals introduce programs, events and more.

In high traffic areas. Similarly, the main lobby, cafeteria and elevator banks are often the ideal locations for displaying health tips and pointers that could reinforce physician instructions and positively impact care.

At the point of care. “Reminders to staff, where patient care is delivered, are important to ensuring process and procedures are followed; these can include hourly rounding messaging so patients know they can depend on a nurse to check in with them on time,” states Tarantino.

In fact, these reminders can help prevent falls and other “never events.”

“One prevented fall because of reminders to staff can not only help save a life, but can also significantly impact a hospital’s bottom line,” Tarantino points out.

Digital messaging at point of care can reduce never events.
Digital reminders can reinforce protocols to avoid patient falls and other “never events.” Image courtesy of Vericom Corporation.

At hospital discharge. Care transitions and discharge instructions have become a major focus of modern healthcare delivery, as hospitals strive to avoid premature readmissions and work with other providers to support the continuum of care. Digital messaging can help caregivers and patients with reminders about making post-hospital appointments, confirming transportation access, explaining next steps and ensuring medication compliance.

At clinics and physicians’ offices. Along with general health reminders and suggestions for patient services, patients in outpatient settings can also be reminded to “brown bag” their medications for their next visit to the doctor. The “brown bag review” encourages patients to bring all of their medications and supplements to medical appointments to help avoid the risk of dangerous interactions.

Making each contact count 

Hospitals have begun to realize that every contact with the patient counts toward the patient’s perception of their hospital experience, and are working to adjust their messaging accordingly.

For example, the renowned Cleveland Clinic has created a program to improve the patient experience by teaching all personnel how to interact with patients. All Cleveland Clinic employees are called “caregivers”; this includes housekeeping personnel who might notice a patient who requires attention. They are then trained to bring that information to medical staff members, who can quickly provide assistance. They are also reminded to appropriately acknowledge the patient while cleaning the room, as a friendly face can count as much as a clean sink when it comes to a patient’s recall.

“Patients judge and interpret what they have the expertise to interpret: how we make them feel,” said Adrienne Boissy, MD, MA, medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center of Excellence in Healthcare Communication and experience officer for Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute, during a recent patient experience webinar. “We have to expand clinicians’ ability to address these other aspects [wait time, coordination, explanations, etc.] with patients from a communications standpoint.”

The overall message suggests behavioral change is required for all staff members: doctors, nurses, therapists and all personnel who come into a patient’s room.

Making changes via hospital communication 

Patients may remember whether the staff nurse handled their request for another pillow with enthusiasm or whether their medication plan after surgery was explained. They may also remember whether they were asked about their level of pain frequently. But they may never know that digital messaging at the nurses’ station and throughout the hospital provided important reminders to complete hourly rounds, improve the patient experience and ensure compliance with established protocols and safeguards.

Tarantino concluded, “Communication at the point of care that shows empathy differentiates and influences a patient’s perception of the care they received.” At the same time, digital messaging can support behavioral change by reminding hospital staff that the patient’s perceived experience matters.

© 2013. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

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