At a time when clinicians are struggling to manage the countless tasks they face in their work every day, issues around mobile communications have come to the fore as never before. What’s not working are ad hoc non-systems involving pagers and devices disconnected from overall communication networks—even as by some estimates, pagers are still being used by an estimated 85 percent of hospital organizations.
But things have been changing rapidly at UW Medicine Valley Medical Center in Renton, Washington. Leaders at Valley Medical Center have been reworking their organization’s mobile communications infrastructure. Two-and-a-half years ago, they chose to partner with the Sarasota, Fla.-based Voalte Inc. That company has been working with the leaders at Valley Medical Center to implement a comprehensive set of communications solutions.
Recently, James Jones, R.N., the organization’s vice president of patient care services and nursing operations, and Vinita Singh, R.N., the nurse manager in its Renal Respiratory Unit, spoke with Editor-in-Chief, Mark Hagland, regarding their current initiative. Below are excerpts from that interview.
Please tell me about the origins of this communications initiative?
James Jones, R.N.: We started developing a relationship with Voalte about two years ago. We were challenged with improving our communications within our organization. We had several disparate communications devices, like pagers, we had a Cisco phone, we had other forms of devices to page and communicate. So what we’ve been trying to do is to figure out the best solution in the organization for a single HIPAA-compliant communications device.
James Jones, R.N.
What has the timeline been?
What happened in the organization was that our senior leadership team had met with our board, looking at the Quadruple Aim. We were looking at how to fulfill that. And the missing piece was how to reduce burnout among clinicians, and improve satisfaction, and make things as easy as possible for them. And as you know, with JCAHO, the number-one cause of sentinel events has been lack of good communication. And I worked closely with our IT department and senior leadership team, to come up with solutions.
When did those conversations begin?
Around about April of 2015.
And essentially, you decided you needed a unifying technology platform, correct?
Vinita Singh, R.N.: Yes. We wanted a technology that would be a great tool for the nurses, to work efficiently and safely. And Voalte offered a smartphone that would give us what we needed. We all want our nurses to have the best tools to be as successful as they can. And having good, reliable communications that can help you communicate with physicians in a timely manner to deliver quality care—that was the goal. And this tool allowed us to do that.
Jones: Vinita is spot-on. The other opportunity was to connect with the entire interdisciplinary team. And we realized that, working more collaboratively—we really needed to bring our rehab team, environmental services, dietary and pharmacy, into the process as a whole, as well.
When did you sign the contract with Voalte, and when did you begin to roll out the program?
Jones: We had the contract signed in January 2016. Our initial rollout on a pilot unit started in June and July 2016 on a medical/surgical unit—a 44-bed unit, the largest and biggest unit in the hospital.
Was it focused on getting rid of all the other devices, using smartphones?
Jones: We went with a pilot first, because Vinita had some really seasoned staff over there who could really give us some insight, and we felt that it would be more palatable to bring it to other units. We’ve piloted a number of other things on that unit as well.
What was the rollout like?
Singh: Well, it was definitely a change. And with any change, we needed buy-in from staff. And when I heard that our leadership had chosen our unit for the pilot, I was very flattered. I wanted to make sure this would be successful. And we worked hard with staff to make sure there was buy-in; we talked a lot with them about it. And we also shared with them what the wins would be. With any new system, you have challenges. And I think that staff buy-in was the biggest win. We talked about how this technology would benefit them and their patient care, and the patient experience, as well as the physician experience. It was a challenge to get buy-in, but it went well.
Vinita Singh, R.N.
How did you use the phone initially?
Singh: We went live on a Monday; we had already done some education for staff on the options and what it would look like, and had done some classes. And then we gave the smartphones to everybody and said, OK, this is where you’ll get the calls. And the IT department had done a staff directory, and everyone had a unique profile and phone number. And they started using the phones. The technology allows for texting. And we had a command center to help us. So as staff started using it, and they had questions, we gave them support. And we made sure the alarm system that connects through middleware, was set up as well. So we had a lot of planning in the background and education.
What changes took place in communications processes as a result?
Jones: Pager-based communications were replaced with direct calls and texting.
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