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How a Mobile Nurse Calling System Has Made Responding to “Code Blue” Easier

October 7, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Mobile devices connect Sauk Prairie nurses directly to patients

A few years ago, in Prairie du Sac, Wisc., IT leaders at Sauk Prairie Healthcare saw an opportunity to improve patient safety at the 36-bed acute care hospital and two surgical specialty practices, using greater and more effective use of technology.

One initiative the organization proposed was building a data center to keep pace with new technology that would undoubtedly emerge in the coming years. A second project was to build in a mobility-based nurse calling system that would enable staff to quickly and effectively respond to patient requests.

Leaders at Sauk Prairie realized that open communication between healthcare providers was essential to delivering optimal patient care; however, the fast-moving hospital setting can make it difficult to track down the right doctor or nurse.

To facilitate timely and efficient communication, the patient care organization recently implemented the mobility-based nurse calling system when it built the latest hospital in its healthcare network.  Leveraging wireless networks and mobile devices, each nurse is assigned a handheld device that is registered to their section of the hospital, providing patients with a direct line of communication with their assigned nurse, says Marybeth Bay, IT director and CIO at Sauk Prairie.

Marybeth Bay

Working with the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based vendor CDW Healthcare, Sauk Prairie committed to making mobility work for the organization through the implementation of a new IT infrastructure, which supported the nurse calling system and accommodated future technology growth, Bay says. “Our previous nurse call system was not integrated or tied into our infrastructure. It was [basically] a pull-down cord that would trigger a light in the room so a nurse or whoever saw the light would come to the room,” she says.

Not surprisingly, the “call light” systems became a challenge to maintain and provided little flexibility for integration. Now, says Bay, the new call system is integrated, and the handheld devices that look like cell phones run off the Sauk Prairie network. The software is located in the servers in the data center, and the wireless devices are integrated with the system so you can communicate inside the organization’s walls, Bay explains.

The system’s best attributes are its ability to improve patient safety and save time, says Bay. For example,  if there is a ‘code blue’ in a patient’s room, such as someone going into cardiac arrest, a blue button is pushed by the caretaker in the room, and then the nurse call system will disperse the call to the appropriate handheld devices, so it will allow the right staff to go care for that patient. Nurses are assigned to a device when they begin their shift by logging into the system and taking the device that is allocated with specific room numbers, Bay explains.

“What we had before was overhead paging, so if someone went into cardiac arrest, they would call ‘code blue’ from the intercom, and you would get a lot of inpatient caretakers to come over to assist. So you didn’t have an efficient process,” says Bay. “Now, if there is a code blue in that environment, the nurse will see the alert and the specific location/room right on the device. “Only people in that area go to the code blue location,” she notes.

Amongst Sauk Prairie caregivers, who are all over the various hospital locations, the system has significantly improved communication, Bay says, noting that the call system is only in the two acute care hospitals, but the handheld devices are in all facilities, allowing staff to text each other as well.  “Nurses are taking very favorably to it,” she says. “It can serve as a tool between the hospital and the lab. Say a patient presented into the acute care area needs lab tests done, those devices can be used to communicate to a lab that a patient is in the room and needs a test. So it expands that ability rather than picking up a phone at the desk.”

According to Bay, there is a pressing need for healthcare organizations to improve their communication, as poor communication can easily affect patient safety and satisfaction. “For the overall patient experience, including patient satisfiers and patients receiving good, safe care, communication is a vital piece of it.  It requires teamwork, and having that workflow streamlined is at the core of it,” she says.  “In the old system, you have so many people running towards the problem, but there wasn’t any rhyme or reason. This structure really helps the efficiency.”

What’s more, in today’s healthcare, nurses and other clinical staff are doing so much more with such fewer people, so there is a need to ramp up the level of internal communication, Bay says. “That has to be done everywhere, and it’s necessary for better patient safety—to reach someone in an emergency, you only have seconds, and seconds count,” she continues. “Even though there might not be a lot of money around, there is a real benefit to having technology that can aid in getting you to that patient quicker. We are getting away from the days from having the light shine a certain color above the door.”