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From Doctor to Patient: A Reminder of Why Healthcare IT Matters

June 12, 2018

I recently underwent a major, elective orthopedic surgery at a highly regarded health system. I’m thrilled with the results so far and am recovering faster than I expected, but I wanted to share my most worrisome moment as a patient.

On the day my surgery was completed, I was resting comfortably in my room, and I asked the nurse to help me get into a chair. I’d tried walking once earlier in the day, managed to get a few steps in, but then had to rest as I became lightheaded. Now late in the day, my wife was back home and I was alone in the room and wanted to see how I felt out of bed. I walked to the chair with the nurse’s assistance, felt OK, and she left the room.

A few minutes later, I started feeling lightheaded again. I pressed the nurse call button, the light turned red on the device, and I waited. However, I was rapidly starting to feel worse. Sweating. I felt as if I was going to pass out. An agonizing few minutes or so after I pressed the button, she came in and, with assistance, got me back to bed where I felt better.

I probably pressed the nurse call button six separate times over my brief one-night hospital stay, but this was the only one where time really mattered.


When Seconds Count

Let me share with you what was going through my mind during those few minutes. I was worried. I didn’t want to pass out. I was worried my blood pressure was dropping precipitously. I tried pressing the button again and again, hoping irrationally that doing so would make my nurse respond faster. I stared at the door waiting for her, or anyone, to walk by or in. I was incredibly vulnerable at this point as I could not get up by myself, and I could not do anything to help myself. I had no idea when someone would recognize the situation. The seconds ticked by slowly, and I felt worse and worse.

This hospital has a traditional nurse call system. When I pushed the button, a light lit up outside my room. There may have been some other notification mechanism, but I don’t believe the nurse was personally notified when I pushed the button. Someone had to be actively looking for the light, be in the area, and be free to act. The only way for the nurse to understand the intent of the button press was to have a person physically come into my room and ask me what was wrong.

If this hospital had Spok, I’m confident my experience would have been much different. When I pressed the button, the nurse would have been notified via a device (i.e. mobile phone) she was carrying. She could have quickly seen the notification even if she was in another patient’s room and then pressed a button to call the room phone or speaker to talk to me. I would have conveyed the urgency of the situation, and she would have immediately come to help. I would know that someone was on the way. And when I pressed the button another time to simply ask for more water, the nurse could talk to me and know quickly the request was non-urgent.


“Simple” Technology, Big Impact

Before my hospital stay I certainly knew about nurse call, understood the importance of quick responses, and could articulate the value, but I did not have full empathy for what patients feel like in these vulnerable, terrifying situations until this happened to me.

We have hundreds of hospitals where many thousands of patients every day are having better experiences every day because of Spok. It’s something that can be easy for us, and for other healthcare technology companies, to forget. Once our technology is installed, we’re not there at every moment, seeing it in action on patient floors and feeling the weight of its importance to patients like me.

This experience has helped me to remember that, even for solutions as “simple” as nurse call, we make a difference. What we do matters.

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By Dr. Andrew Mellin, Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Mellin has almost 20 years of experience as both a practicing physician and healthcare executive. He brings an extensive background in health information technology including leading physician adoption programs for new technologies and developing innovative clinical solutions. Previous to joining Spok he was VP, Medical Director at RedBrick Health, where he helped health systems drive employee engagement of consumer-oriented population health and well-being solutions. Prior to RedBrick Health, Dr. Mellin spent 15 years at McKesson in various positions where he served as Medical Director for McKesson’s population health analytics solutions, developed a novel real-time quality solution for hospitals, and led physician strategy and product management for the electronic health record. He previously served as Medical Director for Allina Health’s Davies Award-winning implementation of an electronic health record at nine hospitals and 60 clinics across Minnesota. Dr. Mellin received his M.D. from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and his MBA from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management. He trained in Internal Medicine at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., and is board certified in Internal Medicine.