A Guide to Improving Hospital Efficiency With Meaningful Clinical Alerting

Information needs to be relayed—among doctors, nurses, labs, radiology, and patients—quickly and accurately in order to support the end goal: a well-cared-for patient. Mistakes can be made and patients may be impacted when communication systems fall apart and information gets lost.

An effective clinical alerting solution can quickly get critical information to the right people. Patient monitor alarms, nurse call alerts, bed rail alarms, test results and even messages from non-clinical systems such as access control and fire alarms—all of these and many more can be securely sent to the appropriate staff member’s pager, smartphone, tablet or Wi-Fi phone. The ideal clinical alerting solution will have a positive impact on both the patient experience as well as clinician workflows and satisfaction. This is because when clinical alerting works, a hospital is more likely to score well on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey as well as earn accreditation by The Joint Commission, which certifies and accredits more than 20,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the United States for clinical excellence and patient safety.

A good clinical alerting solution supports clinical workflows, allowing a hospital to provide the best-possible patient care. Learn why clinical alerting is crucial to the success of an enterprise critical communications solution.

Learn More About Spok Clinical Alerting »

What Is Clinical Alerting?

Clinical alerting connects monitoring systems throughout a hospital to clinical staff, delivering detailed information as soon as it’s available to mobile devices. Respirators, patient monitors, ventilators, bed management systems, nurse call—even fridge thermometers and fire alarms—can all be connected and send alerts to the most appropriate staff member for assistance.

Meaningful communication across hospital departments and systems leads to better patient care and satisfaction. When information isn’t delivered quickly or is miscommunicated, serious repercussions can occur. The results can range from patient discharge delays to alert fatigue to misinterpreted information. Clinical alerting resolves the kinks in communication pipelines and can help to better manage:

  • Patient Monitoring Alerts
  • Nurse Call System Alerts
  • Electronic Health Records (EHR)
  • Critical Test Results from Radiology and the Lab

patient monitor

Increase Efficiency in Responding to the Nurse Call Button

Nurse call systems have come a long way since their inception. Finding a good way for patients to get the attention of a nurse seems fairly simple, yet it has taken decades to harness the technology necessary to make it an effective process. Through the 1850s, multi-patient corridors were the standard throughout hospitals. With several patients in one room it was easier for nurses and medical staff to monitor patients quickly. As private rooms became the norm, however, nurse call systems developed and were commercially introduced in the 1950s. These systems were often as simple as a patient pushing a button, causing a buzzer to sound until it was disabled by a responding nurse.

Flaws with early nurse call systems were painfully evident. When a buzzer would sound or a light would go off indicating a patient in need, there was no way for a nurse to know the importance or purpose of a call. The patient could be suffering a severe medical emergency or need something as simple as a cup of water. Because of the lack of information, this system created inefficiencies. Nurses who could be better utilized elsewhere, were often performing tasks that other hospital staff could have completed.

Advances in clinical alerting technology have resulted in much more efficient nurse call systems capable of paging nurses wirelessly through smartphones, pagers, and tablets and integrating with network IP technology. They can also be customized to meet the communication needs of individual hospitals. These new systems can provide meaningful information delivered right to mobile devices, greatly improving the effectiveness of nurses and other staff.

nurse call

Say Goodbye to Noisy Hallways and Reduce Alarm Fatigue

When you walk through a hospital, you may be met with beeps, buzzes, and flashing lights all firing at the same time, coming from nurse stations, carts, and every room with an open door. Not only does this constant cacophony impact the sleep and comfort of patients, but it also makes nurses and medical staff immune to the sounds. This lessens the urgency of each beeping alert they hear.

The sheer abundance and frequency of alarms for every condition imaginable leaves nurses answering calls that could have been handled by other staff. Or, even worse, alerts are missed altogether in a sea of noise. The ECRI Institute named “missed alarms” as the No. 2 hazard on its list of the Top 10 Health Technology Hazards of 2016.  

patient monitoring equipment

nurse using smartphone

Some of a hospital’s greatest inefficiencies become apparent when staff realize how long it takes a patient to receive help from a nurse—whether it’s a trip to the bathroom, a glass of water, or the status of a test result. A good clinical alerting system can dramatically reduce the potentially harmful effects of alarm fatigue.

When critical communications are delivered in effective ways, alarms don’t get lost in the cacophony of sounds. Enhanced clinical alerting has the ability to notify the appropriate staff about the specific needs of a patient, along with the patient’s room number. Alerts no longer have to be vague and at risk of being disregarded, they can directly and precisely transmit the needs of a patient. In addition, clinical alerting enables system-generated alarm notifications to be sent directly to the telephones, smartphones, tablets, pagers, etc., of the appropriate medical staff.

On top of effective responses to alarms, clinical alerting allows the never-ending sounds of thousands of alarm notifications to be quieted. As notifications are funneled to the appropriate resources through smartphones and tablets, the number of beeps and buzzes for all to hear on a hospital floor is decreased. This reduction of noise not only fosters a better working environment for doctors and nurses, but it also helps patients get the much-needed sleep they need. Decreased noise levels can boost HCAHPS survey scores by raising patient satisfaction.

Enhance Communication for Staff

With better clinical alerting comes better communication across clinical teams. The Joint Commission consistently found communication to be among the top three leading root causes of sentinel events (unanticipated events resulting in serious injury or death) over a 10-year period. When communication is poor or lacking, there is potential to delay critical treatment, which causes patient harm and dissatisfaction. Inefficient communication can also lengthen the average stay of a patient and could ultimately be reflected on HCAHPS surveys—resulting in reduced financial incentives dependent on patient satisfaction scores.

When improved clinical alerting is implemented, healthcare providers are able to receive notification of critical communications like changes in patient vitals, test results, patient information and more. This can help medical staff make better decisions with the right people quickly. Alerting healthcare professionals in an effective and comprehensive way will help medical needs get triaged and addressed in the best ways possible. Without critical alerting, a patient’s needs might go unnoticed for longer periods of time or be relayed to the wrong people, who then have to play the role of middlemen to find the right resources to help the patient. With clinical alerting middleware, coordinating critical care can be more successful, impacting patient and provider satisfaction.

doctor reading tablet

Boost Patient Satisfaction With Better Alerting

One goal of The Joint Commission is ultimately to better the effectiveness of communication among caregivers in order to improve patient satisfaction and care. Better critical alerting can make huge strides toward achieving that goal. With modern alerting technology, a variety of patient care and monitoring systems can be integrated with staff’s mobile devices. Better critical alerting is possible today.

Hospitals seeking to improve efficiency can even utilize available intelligent software that can act as the first stage of triage. By incorporating preset priority levels, this intelligent software will pass along the highest level of alerts first, then send out less emergent alerts to the appropriate staff. The advances in alerting software even make it possible for unacknowledged alerts to be escalated at the appropriate times, meaning patient needs can be addressed quickly by another on-duty staff member.

Better alerting also means expanding existing communication infrastructure. Connectivity across systems, technology, and staff is crucial to improving that infrastructure. The more systems that can be connected to the appropriate resources, the better. Consider the benefits of connecting these monitoring systems to the appropriate staff:

radiologist looking at results on monitors

  • Security systems
  • Bed management
  • Ventilators
  • Infusion pumps
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Infant protection
  • Nurse call
  • Patient monitoring
  • Fire alarms
  • Critical test results

When patients get the care and services they request quicker, they feel better cared for and more satisfied. Additionally, good communications can allow nurses and physicians to spend more time at patients’ bedsides explaining diagnoses and treatments. This high level of service within a hospital directly translates to better patient satisfaction scores on the HCAHPS survey. What exactly does higher HCAHPS survey scores mean for hospitals, though?

Clinical Alerting Keeps a Digital Paper Trail

Enhanced clinical alerting can also have the ability to track the actions taken to keep a digital paper trail. By logging what types of alerts are being sent, what types are being escalated, and how long it takes to respond to alarms, hospital leadership can garner the information they need to make decisions. By tracking and recording operational reporting and quality metrics, progress can be monitored and individual hospital performance can be measured against set objectives. Additionally, automatic logging enables patient care histories to be readily accessible in cases where actions need to be reviewed. Enhanced clinical alerting automatically logs events so healthcare providers don’t have to—saving them time that can be better spent with the patient.

EHR

Summary: Patient Plus Provider Satisfaction Equal a More Efficient Healthcare Facility

A happy and healthy patient may mean a job well done, but are there ways to improve the process of getting there? One tool that can make patient satisfaction a given in any hospital is enhanced clinical alerting. This middleware connects the right systems and alarms to the right people, which decreases alarm response times and increases the timeliness of care being given. Fluid and comprehensive critical communications can also greatly impact patient satisfaction scores on the HCAHPS survey while helping meet The Joint Commission’s guidelines.

With meaningful critical alerting, your hospital can:

  • Increase nurse call button efficiency
  • Reduce alarm fatigue
  • Enhance provider communication and satisfaction
  • Track alerts and response times for future reference and goal setting
  • Improve patient care and satisfaction

When each of these facets is improved through better clinical alerting, the efficiency of a healthcare facility can dramatically increase. Better communication across people and systems means better outcomes for everyone. By fully utilizing the technological advances in clinical alerting, the boundaries to hospital effectiveness are knocked down and the lines to greater communication—and happier, more satisfied patients—can be fully opened.