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5 Ways Hospitals Can Improve Emergency Response

May 2, 2019

How does a hospital get the word out to staff to prepare for and respond to emergencies?

While healthcare professionals deftly handle urgent patient care situations every day, they also need to prepare for unexpected emergencies, like natural disasters, an active shooter scenario, cyberattacks, or a large traffic accident. As Dean Parris, operations manager at Bermuda Hospitals Board, says: “A disaster is any event that puts stress on your facility, staff, or patients.”

These are the types of events that you hope you don’t experience, but must be prepared for. Emergency notification technology can help you improve your response. In those instances where you need to get the word out quickly to all staff or select groups, technology can make a difference by saving precious time.

1. Automate notifications and escalations

Before they had an enterprise communication platform, Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) staff did what a lot of organizations do in emergencies—they got on the phone. They were essentially using a Rolodex to execute a manual calling tree to reach the right people. As a result, it could take upwards of three hours to notify key personnel, including clinical team members, in the event of a disaster like a tropical storm.

With emergency notification through Spok Care Connect, BHB can launch automatic call trees that send messages to any device, collect the responses, escalate when needed, and log all the information for reporting and analysis. They’ve successfully delivered mass notifications to more than 200 clinical staff members in a matter of seconds. Through this automation and standardization of emergency response protocol, BHB has shortened the response time for Code Blue alerts by 50 percent, and decreased disaster response time from an average of 150 minutes to less than 30 minutes. These improvements have allowed BHB to spend more time focusing on patient care. See Spok in action at BHB.

2. Support mobility and device diversity

During an emergency, you can’t count on someone being on a particular device, or even rely on a sole communication method. It’s best practice to cast as wide of a net as you can and send emergency notifications on nearly every imaginable channel: texts and emails (smartphone, tablet, or desktop), voice calls (land lines, TDM, VoIP, cellular), and pages (pagers, encrypted pagers). Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, the largest healthcare delivery system in Saskatchewan, uses Spok to automatically send texts, calls, and pages to one of more than 200 call groups, each with 20 to 30 responders.

The system starts with the responder’s preferred device, but confirmation technology and built-in escalations and back-up calls ensure nothing is left to chance. The health system’s emergency response time has dropped significantly—from up to 10 minutes with the old process, to about 40 seconds with Spok—a huge improvement in their ability to quickly respond to emergency situations.

3. Think enterprise-wide and encompass all facilities

Many hospitals and health systems have large physical footprints with networks of hospitals, clinics, labs, and administrative buildings across a geographic area. Different staff may work at each facility, and some staff may even work at multiple facilities. An enterprise approach to emergency notification ensures you’re covering all facilities and roles. For example, at Indiana University (IU) Health, an emergency may prompt notifications to Riley Hospital for Children and the emergency management department of the nearby college campus. This helps adjacent facilities have a heads up that they might be affected.

Spok emergency notification supports notifications to any combination of personnel, and groups predefined by the institution make it easy and efficient to communicate information to the right people during an emergency, or even just a drill.

4. Train all staff who may be involved

Technology is just one piece of emergency response, and it’s only effective if the right staff members know how and when to leverage it. A Code STEMI is activated when a patient presents with ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, or the deadliest form of heart attack. Quick response and treatment for STEMI patients is critical, because with each minute that passes, the heart muscle is progressively damaged and the patient’s condition worsens. The Joint Commission recommends a “door to balloon” time (patient presentation to percutaneous coronary intervention in the cardiac cath lab) of less than 90 minutes.

Before making Spok the default way to activate code STEMIs, Franciscan Health Michigan City made sure that all staff members in the emergency department were trained on how to activate code alerts. Everyone from the charge nurse to the unit clerk can activate code STEMIs, speeding the process. All cath lab staff members receive code STEMI alerts, and once two have responded, the page stops.

The previous process to activate code STEMIs and reach all necessary staff members took about three and a half minutes. With Spok, it takes less than two minutes, and they’ve reduced the overall door-to-balloon process to <60 minutes. Clearly, the combination of technology and training is making a difference for patients.

5. Hold “dress rehearsals” for specific events

On a Friday afternoon last January, The Ottawa Hospitalreceived terrible news—a bus had crashed into Westboro station, and many people were injured. The hospital declared a Code Orange, which activates a massive, multi-faceted response at the hospital. Because the crash occurred just before the weekend, when the hospital was reducing staff and closing operating rooms, many clinicians had to be called back to the hospital to prepare for the sudden influx of trauma cases.

Fortunately, the hospital had routinely rehearsed Code Orange response during the past five years, and just completed a simulation in November. When the real need occurred, they were ready. The Ottawa Hospital contact center used Spok emergency notification to issue alerts to key staff members, which were received by the Spok Mobile application on smartphones and tablets.

With emergency notification, The Ottawa Hospital rallied the right staff members, prepared eight trauma bays in the ER and six operating rooms, and were ready as the first patients arrived at the emergency room doors. Joanne Read, the woman responsible for The Ottawa Hospital’s emergency plan, told the Ottawa Citizen they were relieved to know the system worked under a real-life stress test.

“I was very proud: We were ready,” she said. “Ottawa’s a very small city, and I knew that some of these people coming in the door could be friends or family, someone you knew. We were ready.”

How prepared is your hospital?

If even just one of the emergency scenarios described above sparks concern for your current technology (or lack thereof) and processes, it’s worth gathering the stakeholders at your organization to thoroughly evaluate emergency communications and response.

When each second is critical, you don’t have time for manual calling trees or confusion. Dependable, accurate mass notification of meaningful information on any type of mobile device is a great start, but Spok takes it to the next level and ensures situational awareness and response with two-way communication, automated escalations, and web-based, real-time monitors for meaningful reporting and analysis.

How quickly can your staff spring into action when a disaster strikes or a critical code is activated? If there’s room for improvement, let’s talk!

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Staff Efficiency

By Tim Tindle, Chief Information Officer
Tim Tindle is Spok’s chief information officer. He has over 35 years of information technology experience. Tindle served as CIO at Harris Health System, a $1.5 billion-dollar integrated delivery system. He has also held executive roles at ANATEC Information Services (acquired by NORRELL Information Services in 1996), and at Compaq Computer Corporation. He was part of the team that developed the company’s original portable computer.