Putting the Patient First: 3 Ways Technology Can Improve Patient Safety and Outcomes

Hospital respondents recently ranked patient safety as priority No. 1 in the HIMSS 2018 Leadership and Workforce Survey—again. However, patient safety is an incredibly broad challenge. As a neonatal nurse practitioner, my hospital and my team were constantly approaching it from every angle we could think of: checklists, hand-offs, and emergency scenario plans, to name a few.

Looking back, I realize how helpful the technology available today would have been to our efforts. The ECRI Institute, an independent nonprofit dedicated to improving patient care, recently released its fifth annual Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations executive brief based on more than 2 million patient safety event reports—these are real issues happening in hospitals across the country every day.

Take a look at three of the top 10 concerns where clinical communication and collaboration technology can have a tremendous impact on patient safety and outcomes:

1. Diagnostic Errors

A key component of effective treatment is ensuring that the diagnosis is successfully delivered to the clinicians who need to act on it, otherwise the diagnosis itself is of no value. A staggering 7 billion lab tests and 600 million imaging procedures are done in the U.S. each year. With that kind of volume, it’s unsurprising that diagnostic errors are common, and they can have serious consequences. ECRI cites miscommunication as the top root cause, but notes that it’s a multifactorial problem—the result of “cognitive, systemic, or a combination of cognitive and systemic factors.”

Critical test results notification technology can help ensure that once a diagnosis is made the results get to the right care team members and that they can acknowledge in the patient record that they viewed that result. For example, a patient has a CT scan. The radiologist notices acute cerebral bleeding and enters the results in the RIS/PACS viewer. This triggers an HL7 message to the CTRM system, which notifies the ordering physician on her preferred mobile device and updates the patient’s EHR with a flag. The physician can view that result, wherever she is located, and begin a treatment plan. You can see that having the right infrastructure to automate and ensure the delivery of a critical test result notification is a giant leap forward in the overall goal of reducing diagnostic errors.

2. Internal Care Coordination

A patient sees about 18 healthcare professionals during the average hospital stay. That’s a lot of people who need to be informed about the patient at all times and work together to effectively coordinate his or her care. Poor care coordination puts patients at risk for patient safety events such as “medication errors, lack of necessary follow-up care, and diagnostic delays,” according to ECRI. All of these risks come down to a failure to communicate.

Just like a patient sees many healthcare professionals during a hospital stay, a provider will see many patients during their shift. California is the only state to have enacted a patient-nurse ratio law. While other states may follow suit, it’s not uncommon for a clinician to manage the care of five or more patients during their shift. A clinical communication and collaboration platform that includes secure messaging, directory and on-call schedule access, and clinical alerting can support better care coordination and improve patient safety.

At Union Hospital in Elkton, Maryland, staff start each day with a safety huddle to discuss issues that occurred the previous day. Through these huddles, they identified 24 patient safety incidents where outdated scheduling information caused communication delays or failures. With Spok Care Connect®, they established a single source of truth for up-to-date, web-based scheduling information accessible by anyone in the facility. As a result, they cut communication breakdowns in half, and improved patient safety throughout the facility.

3. All-Hazards Emergency Preparedness

Last year saw record-setting natural disasters, mass shootings, cyberattacks, and many other emergency scenarios that challenged operations at healthcare organizations across the country. While you can’t prevent these kinds of emergencies, you can prepare for them. “Facilities that were prepared for these disasters fared better than those that were not,” note ECRI researchers. “Obviously preparing is a whole lot better than having to recover.”

Communication tools like emergency notification, which allows you to alert a group of people or your entire staff with critical information during an emergency, along with business continuity planning and redundant systems can help hospitals effectively plan for emergency scenarios. Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, confronted a disaster scenario in August 2016 when the state experienced historic flooding—with their hospital at the center of the devastation. They were able to keep systems critical to patient care online, including contact center solutions and hospital-wide secure messaging with Spok Mobile®. Spok Mobile became the de facto communication method for operators to deliver messages quickly, allowing them to easily handle the influx of calls from residents, and the acknowledgment feature ensured they could confirm whether doctors were receiving messages.

While we could dive into how better care team collaboration supports improved patient safety and outcomes for all 10 of ECRI’s top patient safety concerns, these three perfect illustrate what Spok means when we say, “Smarter clinical communications. Better outcomes.”

When clinical and non-clinical members of your care teams can easily and consistently reach one another, the systems they rely on, and the critical information they need to effectively do their jobs, patients will always benefit.