The Heart of Healthcare: The Voice of the Patient

I’ve worked in healthcare IT for the majority of my career. My curiosity in tech was what brought me to the industry. My passion for helping others through healthcare is what has kept me here. I’ve always seen my role in providing communication technology tools for caregivers as having a direct impact on a patient’s life. Just like pulse oximeters and medications, the smartphone and its applications have become a critical part of the toolkit physicians rely on to save patients’ lives every day. I help deliver positive clinical outcomes. I’m part of the care team. This is central to what we all do in the healthcare industry, from clinical roles to administration to IT: We all work together to help patients.

While in the hospital, the patient communicates with caregivers throughout the day, whether they are able to physically speak or not. When they are awake and in need of help, they may press a nurse call button. When they are unconscious and in need of help, machines may speak for them by alerting their caregivers of a change in vitals. Test results run in the lab deliver a message that everything is okay or further treatment is needed.  Patients are speaking to providers constantly. It’s Health IT’s job to make sure the patient is heard, as what they have to say is often communicated through some form of technology.

When patients enter the hospital in need of medical care, they are immediately connected to a network of technologies that begin ‘listening’ to them. This technology can include heart monitors, infusion pumps, pulse oximeters, respirators, and other medical monitoring devices. In many hospitals today, these technologies speak to caregivers by beeping loudly when the patient is in need of help. This is not the best way to communicate, as it is ambiguous, limited in reach, and disruptive to the surrounding healing environment and clinical workflows. Nonetheless, this is the patient’s voice, asking for help.

This is where my role on the care team (and the role of IT) comes in. It’s my job to help create stronger connections and better communication within hospitals through the use of technology. In many cases the most effective and efficient way to facilitate a connection to a caregiver is through a smartphone, as they rely more and more on these devices to communicate and find information throughout the hospital. To ensure the patient’s voice is heard quickly and loudly, alerts must be prioritized over other information when arriving on a caregiver’s smartphone.

To do this, we connect the machines that speak for patients to the caregiver, by way of the smartphone. When the patient’s ventilator goes into alarm, a result comes back from the lab, or the patient presses the nurse call button, the software I help implement sends a priority notification to the appropriate on-duty caregiver’s smartphone. When the caregiver hears and sees this cry for help—presented to them accurately, appropriately, and securely no matter where they are—they can react quickly to the patient’s need.

We can make a difference by helping elevate the patient’s voice when clinically necessary. Here’s how:

1. Priority rules engine: There are a lot of voices crying out for help in the hospital. It is vital for the technology that we implement to prioritize those voices based on clinical severity in order to reduce clinician alarm fatigue. Spok’s clinical alerting technology can be programmed with a set of rules, so that the originating system (nurse call, lab information system, electronic health record, etc.) and the criticality of an alert can be filtered to trigger different workflows. For example, non-critical lab values may remain stored in the lab information system for caregivers to review before checking in with patients, while critical values may trigger a priority alert on a caregiver’s smartphone.

2. On-call schedules: When a patient does call for help, directly or indirectly, there may be many caregivers around, but it is important that the right caregiver hears. An assigned nurse or hospitalist, an on-call specialist, or even a full care team may need to help the patient. We must use technology to leverage on-call schedules and notify the assigned caregivers of the service needed. That way when patients have those priority needs, the appropriate caregiver(s) can spring into action quickly without having to search around for others to help.

3. Intelligent escalation: Many caregivers are often juggling multiple priorities and tasks at any given time. If a patient’s pulse oximeter goes into alarm and notifies the appropriate caregiver, but that individual is busy, technology must have the ability to escalate to a different person altogether based on on-call schedules and accurate contact information. This is particularly important in critical scenarios where calling around wastes valuable time. In some cases, the patient’s life may depend on quickly reaching an appropriate caregiver.

4. Secure messaging: When patients ask for help via connected machines or critical test results, caregivers need to quickly understand who the patient is, their demographics and history, where they are located, and what medical event is taking place. As this typically represents highly sensitive patient information, alerts must be sent securely. The technology we implement to deliver critical messages to providers’ devices must be encrypted and HIPAA compliant.

The voice of the patient is at the heart of healthcare. We must leverage processes, technology, and people to listen and understand each patient’s needs. Clinical alerting and secure messaging solutions can help caregivers hear patients more clearly and reduce alarm fatigue. I see it almost every day. I can hear it in the halls of hospitals. Technologies and caregivers are listening to patients more and improving outcomes.