A few weeks ago, I attended the CHIME Fall CIO Forum in San Diego. I’d call this the “healthcare CIO” event of the year. I had the opportunity to network with many leaders doing incredible things at their organizations. I even had the chance to sit down with 14 executives to do a deep dive into hospital communications: We discussed everything from EHR capabilities to cloud deployment to the future of patient access and the contact center.
What I Heard Loud and Clear
The standout commonality from this discussion with healthcare CIOs was:
1) CIOs realize the need to focus on communication and care collaboration in their hospitals
2) But, they’re tackling it by trying to solve each problem separately—not considering the entire care team collaboration ecosystem
We call this the point-solution approach. It’s what happens when healthcare organizations cobble together their clinical communication infrastructure using technology from several vendors. As a result, they find themselves grappling with overspent budgets and a lot of frustration. Through our conversations, I discovered some misconceptions and questions about what’s meant by “enterprise clinical collaboration.” It solves pain points virtually all hospitals and health systems have, so it’s important to fully understand the definition and the possibilities.
Q: What do you mean by a clinical communication “platform”?
A: For years, I’ve been advising healthcare organizations to take a more holistic view—the platform approach. This in itself is not a unique proposition. You likely often hear terms like “platform,” “enterprise-wide,” or “integrated technology.” A 2018 Spyglass Consulting Group study found that “90 percent of hospitals surveyed are making significant enterprise-wide investments in smartphones and secure mobile communication platforms.” But this discussion of a platform doesn’t factor in the hospital’s hub of communication: the contact center.
So, when I talk about a clinical communication “platform” for healthcare—I’m usually talking about something very different than others in the industry—or what many CIOs think. I’m talking about a complete, enterprise-wide, and fully-integrated communication platform that supports every department, role, and device.
Q: How would you break it down into simple definitions?
A complete end-to-end solution with seamless interoperability which provides the situational awareness required to be fully real time and patient-centric.1
Addresses and delivers on one specific need, often functioning in isolation and only solving a small piece of a very complex puzzle.2
Q: Why does it matter if I use a platform or point solutions to solve challenges?
A: The reality is that hospitals are dealing with multiple disparate data sources and technology that often don’t talk with one another. Using a point-solution approach, hospitals find themselves trying to integrate several clinical communication solutions, often from several vendors. This means that that hospitals can’t efficiently dictate the path that information flows because totally separate data sources (directory, schedules, preferences, etc.) are not connected and are unable to exchange the valuable information that powers care team collaboration.
You shouldn’t have to look at your IT systems as individual, unrelated challenges. And you definitely shouldn’t have to adjust workflows to meet the requirements of rigid point solutions. With a true communication platform, it’s possible to pull the right information, add context, and deliver it to the right person to act on in near real-time.
Q: Isn’t my EHR a platform? Can’t it do what you’re describing?
A: If you’re thinking “The EHR is a platform, so let’s just use that for communication,”—here’s my response. The EHR wasn’t originally designed for supporting collaboration, and it doesn’t solve the challenges of enterprise communication. One of the topics I discussed with HIT leaders at the CHIME event was the role of the EHR. CIOs told me the EHR will be one of the tools used for communication, but agreed that the EHR will not (and cannot) be the entirety of the strategy and fulfill all communication needs. They explained that the EHR is not a tool that’s available to all users, so if they want to loop in all members of the care team, including those who may not have access to the EHR, a communication platform that integrates with and complements the EHR is key.
At Spok, we believe the “clinical communication” heavy lifting is best suited for a dedicated, enterprise-wide communication platform that complements your hospital’s investment in the EHR. As care teams grow to be larger and more diverse, it’s increasingly important that communications encompass everyone on the entire spectrum of care. An enterprise healthcare communication platform provides messaging tools not just for one or two stakeholders, but for everyone involved with caring for the patient.
A true platform provides the type of collaboration that hospitals need. If you focus solely on the EHR, or individual department communication needs (like scheduling and secure texting) and then try to patch these systems together—you’re fostering a point-solution approach to technology. Today’s hospital IT leaders should be looking for a communication platform that connects people and workflows across the organization and offers a variety of integration and interoperability options to share data and functionality with hospital systems key to patient care, including the EHR, but also nurse call, patient monitoring networks, and the contact center.
Q: How do I know if I’m on the right path?
A: If it’s still not clear whether you’re using a platform vs. point-solution approach—here’s what I’d recommend. Ask yourself these five questions.
1. Do you provide a diverse device mix for clinical and nonclinical teams, allowing each role to use the appropriate device?
2. Do you have a single source of truth for contact details, schedules, and status availability that accounts for roles, devices, schedules, exceptions, or escalations?
3. Are you using a secure messaging application that supports your entire device mix?
4. Do you utilize clinical alerting or alarm monitoring technology that allows clinicians to receive mobile alerts from patient care devices with real-time clinical context?
5. Does your organization send, receive, and integrate patient data from the EHR with other ancillary systems?
6. Does your contact center have a centralized directory of who everyone and every role is and how to get a hold of them?
If you answered yes to all (or most)—then you’re likely taking a platform approach to clinical communication and collaboration challenges. If you answered no to most, then I suggest you review the checklist below. It outlines some key features a communication platform offers.
A Successful Clinical Communication and Collaboration Platform:
□ Facilitates patient-centered conversations
□ Supports all staff members (clinical and nonclinical)
□ Makes an enterprise directory available to all
□ Provides on-call schedule integration with clinician status
□ Supports multiple devices
□ Supports third-party system integrations
□ Includes emergency notifications
□ Delivers real-time notifications
□ Is HIPAA-compliant
□ Provides delivery receipts
□ Creates an audit trail
□ Allows push notifications on smartphones, smartwatches
If you’re struggling with disparate, point solutions, I’d be happy to discuss how to help your organization take a more holistic approach!
1. Runyon, B. (2018, February 21). Innovation Insight for Care Team Collaboration [report].