Devices & Technology

Improving Patient Safety Through Communication

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By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor

August 26, 2011 - Author George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” In personal relationships, communication problems can be detrimental; in health care settings, they can be downright dangerous. Thankfully, health care technology has advanced in such a way that communication among providers--and between providers, patients and their loved ones--has become much easier.

Gone are the days when the overhead page was the best way to get someone’s attention. Today, handheld technology, computers on wheels, bedside tracking and smart systems not only ease communication, but also improve patient safety and employee and patient satisfaction. Here’s a look at some ways technology has stepped in to make the business of saving lives just a little bit simpler.

Motorola is a well-known name in the world of personal mobile technology; it is also a name that’s associated with cutting-edge mobile solutions in the health care setting. The Schaumburg, Illinois-based communication technology manufacturer’s comprehensive suite of products helps nurses improve efficiency, reduce errors and increase productivity in workforce shortages.

Motorola’s Mobile Nursing Portfolio offers a variety of mobile devices that allow nurses to complete their tasks wherever they are--from the patient’s bedside to the nurses’ station. One all-in-one tool, the handheld mobile computer, enables nurses to scan patient wristbands at the bedside to confirm identification, obtain medical record and lab order information, verify medication administration, capture photos of patient progress and even go back to basics: make and receive calls.

In addition to its handheld computers, Motorola also offers its Total Enterprise Access and Mobility (TEAM) solution in health care settings. Nurses use TEAM WiFi smart phones to access voice and data services, react in real-time through push-to-talk features and utilize mobile access in emergency situations, such as a code blue.

This year, Motorola joined forces with another technology company to combine solutions in order to improve response times. The TEAM solution integrated with the Responder 5 Nurse Call system from Mount Prospect, Illinois-based Rauland-Borg, whose quiet nurse call system is in use nationwide in hospitals that have eliminated overhead paging in order to reduce noise and promote healing. By integrating these two technologies, nurses who use Motorola smart phones receive their patients’ calls promptly and without disruption to other providers or patients.

“Wireless technology has become a standard in providing patient care and enhancing the ability to deliver timely response to patients’ needs and expectations,” said Maureen Pajerski, vice president of sales and marketing for Rauland-Borg. “It is a core element in hospital communications by connecting patient calls to appropriate caregivers. Responder 5 Nurse Call integration to wireless systems such as the TEAM solution provides immediate patient-to-staff connections for improved patient care and safety.”

Vocera Communications, Inc., based in San Jose, Calif., is another communications company that has created specific solutions for health care settings. More than 700 hospitals and health care systems use Vocera’s hospital communication system to improve patient flow, patient safety, the patient experience and staff efficiency.

Central to Vocera’s communication system is the B2000 badge, a wearable communications device that weighs less than two ounces and clips onto scrubs or hangs from a lanyard. It acts as a phone, allowing hands-free, two-way communication. Vocera also offers smart phones and is continuing to grow its offerings to accommodate BlackBerry, Android and iPhone users by providing mobile applications for these devices.

“The ongoing success of our business is founded on building powerful workflow communication tools that meet the needs of our customers,” said Bob Zollars, chairman and chief executive officer of Vocera. “We are delivering solutions that are helping to restore the human connection to health care by providing instant communication at the points of care.”’

Finally, hospitals are also implementing new technologies to improve communication with another important person in the health care experience: a patient’s loved one.

Recognizing the need to communicate status updates--specifically of surgical patients--health care facilities are utilizing patient tracking systems like the SmarTrack tool from Wakefield, Massachusetts-based solutions company Picis. The company, which has developed intelligent management systems for all types of hospital units, from the emergency department to the intensive care unit, developed the interactive SmarTrack system to communicate patient status, from arrival in the perioperative area to discharge from the surgical process, on easy-to-read “Big Boards” which allow staff to track throughput, reduce calls to the operating room manager, and provide comfort to family members awaiting updates on their loved ones’ progress.

All of these systems are part of an effort to reduce the illusion that communication has taken place and ensure that, in fact, it has.


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