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CIOs and IT Directors

Ensure Disparate Communication Solutions Don’t Impede Hospital Efficiency

Concerns about data security for your hospital probably keep you up at night. Your physicians want to use their personal devices. Your budget and your team are pulled in multiple directions. Technology across the enterprise is in need of your attention, and you’re balancing all of the demands of yesterday and today while trying to plan for tomorrow. While nothing about your position is simple, there are options to simplify your communications-related projects by focusing on them through an enterprise-level lens.

To be successful, hospitals must respond to patients, physicians, nurses, and other staff members quickly and accurately while maintaining compliance with federal laws and guidelines, including HIPAA. Communication solutions that get the right information to the correct person when they need it can lead to improved patient safety, increased satisfaction, better efficiencies, and improved care and outcomes.

Hospitals need a strong unified critical communications platform that serves as the backbone and central hub through which all applications and resources can access reliable information. It should connect with PBXs, nurse call and bed management systems, clinical systems, electronic health records, and human resource systems to swiftly deliver information to the right people on their device of choice, including smartphones, tablets, pagers, Wi-Fi phones, and other common devices.

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A Unified Communications Platform Maximizes Your Investment

A single system for critical communications enables healthcare organizations to create economies of scale by addressing multiple challenges with fewer solutions. This removes the need for every department to have its own solution, bringing the per-unit cost down.

A unified system—and strategy—also eliminates silos of communication, allowing clinicians to find the right on-call provider, contact others on their preferred devices, text protected health information (PHI) securely, receive critical test results in a timely fashion, and much more.

Integrated communications are critical during a medical emergency such as an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). Upon the patient’s arrival, the hospital must quickly assemble a multidisciplinary team of 12 to 30 people that includes physicians, nurses, technicians, and anesthesiologists. Integrated communications allow one alert to find the right on-call team members, escalating to the next provider if necessary. The team can be assembled in a more efficient way, and the hospital is able to meet quality metrics such as an average door-to-balloon time of 90 minutes or less.

  • Improve communications with interoperable systems: Tie together disparate systems to promote the secure communications and uninterrupted data flow that allows physicians, nurses, and other hospital staff to improve workflows while being able to focus more squarely on patient care.
  • Provide better tools for greater clinician satisfaction: Your clinicians and hospital staff should have the information they need to make better care decisions quicker. A single critical communications platform brings information to the right person on their preferred device.
  • Support clinicians with HIPAA-compliant communications: Secure text messaging solutions for smartphones, Wi-Fi phones, and tablets deliver fast, accurate, HIPAA-compliant communications. In addition, there are options for encrypted paging that can work on the same communications platform as secure text messaging.
  • Get help when you need it with consulting services: Creating seamless communications starts with the right software. But it continues with the right expertise to link communications to the contact directory, bedside monitors, and more.

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Improve Communications With Interoperable Systems

Many disconnected systems in hospitals need to share information for faster communications, efficiency, and care quality. These span clinical, critical test results, security, building management, electronic health records, IT, health information, transport, and more. Many organizations are focused on eliminating these islands of information by linking hospital systems, allowing important information to pass among them.

Systems Interoperability

Your vision should be communications with context, meaning that data existing in the EHR or the patient monitor should not only be delivered to a particular end point, but also in some cases should drive which end point it is delivered to. An example would be a telemetry monitor: A low battery alert shouldn’t bother clinical staff, but it should be sent to a tech who can respond quickly. But a critical heart monitor alert should be delivered as a high priority to a patient’s care team—it’s the same alerting system in the background, but with different end points and priorities.

Enterprise Collaboration

It’s inefficient to maintain a system for doctors to communicate among themselves, and for nurses to do the same. There should be a single, collaborative platform that enables communication among an entire care team.

New Systems to Integrate

Your hospital likely has a number of patient care systems that contain valuable data that doesn’t link to anything. Your vision should be for systems such as your EHR, patient monitors, and your telephony network to all be part of the same communications platform.

New Rules and Regulations

There’s a growing set of standards to which hospitals are being held accountable, from HIPAA and HITECH, to The Joint Commission, to reimbursement guidelines from the Affordable Care Act. An integrated communication strategy can help you meet many of these new guidelines and requirements.

Breaking Down the Barriers to Better Communication

Physicians and nurses waste a lot of time playing phone tag or waiting for orders to come through. Enhanced communications, including secure texts and encrypted pages, can streamline this process.

For example, a nurse requests a nebulizer for patient treatment. Once the physician receives the communication, whether it’s via phone call, email, text, or another method, he or she enters orders remotely via the computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system. A message is sent to the nurse from the EHR when the order is available. The patient receives treatment faster, and the nurse doesn’t need to keep checking the EHR for the order, which increases her efficiency.

However, secure texting on its own for this kind of point-to-point communication between providers can fail to do several important things. First, many secure texting apps don’t integrate with the hospital’s employee directory and on-call schedules for easy reference. Second, many can’t support EHR integration to allow fast notifications. And third, most of these apps by themselves do not offer the integration to provide full support for this workflow, compared with a comprehensive communications infrastructure that supports multiple communication types.

Better Tools Mean Higher Clinician Satisfaction and Improved Patient Care

Although healthcare always has been about the patient, today’s emphasis is on making the care process as seamless as possible. This entails the close involvement of the IT department to link disparate systems and to give clinicians the tools they need to do their jobs within typical workflows. Because if clinicians aren’t happy, patient care suffers.

You want a software partner that offers a wide range of communication tools designed to give clinicians and hospital staff the information they need when they need it to make better care decisions quicker. You should be able to connect with PBXs, nurse call and bed management systems, clinical systems, electronic health records, and human resource systems to swiftly deliver information to the right people on their device of choice, including smartphones, tablets, pagers, Wi-Fi phones, and others.

Reach the Right Provider on the Right Device

Finding the right physician, nurse, or other care provider when a question arises can be tricky because there are shift schedules, on-call schedules, and questions about whether the recipient prefers to be reached on an office phone, smartphone, or pager. And if the provider is unavailable, who is next in line to assist?

Among hospital informatics staff, 62 percent rank on-call schedules a top pain point (Spyglass Consulting Group Health Care Study: Spok Secure Messaging Survey, September 2013). The answer is an integrated communications solution that brings together the staff directory, web-based on-call schedules, the secure texting app, intelligent escalation rules, and provider-specific information such as availability and device preferences. The benefits of faster and more efficient communications will make care coordination easier for providers and safer for patients.


Support Secure Mobile Communications

Clinicians often take the quickest path to their goal of doing what’s best for patients. But what’s best for patients may not be best for hospitals in terms of information security. In a 2014 survey, 96 percent of physicians reported using unsecured texting to coordinate patient care.

The answer to these dueling challenges—expediency and data security—is secure texting. Encrypted smartphone messaging software has been specifically designed for healthcare and offers far more than just security. It includes additional levels of service such as integration with the hospital’s staff directory and on-call scheduling systems to help providers reach other members of the care team quickly.

Better Manage Code Calls and Alerts

Time-critical medical situations require more than just sending a message to the required team. You need to fully manage communications among the group to ensure awareness, coverage, response, and continual improvement. This is critical for situations such as code STEMIs for heart attack patients and many other code alerts that require complex activity at different stages of care.

An integrated communications solution helps alert everyone needed for an emergency team by delivering messages to their preferred devices, including smartphones, office phones, Wi-Fi phones, or pagers. You should be able to quickly and reliably notify and confirm cross-functional team member availability and escalate messages to others as needed. Notifications can be launched in a variety of ways, even via a smartphone.

Support Clinicians With HIPAA-Compliant Communications

Providing physicians, nurses, support staff, and others with the proper communication tools helps them put more focus where it belongs—on helping patients get better. Some are likely using their personal smartphones to talk and text to coordinate care and check on test results, potentially running afoul of HIPAA regulations if PHI is exchanged in an unsecured manner.

In a 2014 survey, 96 percent of physicians reported using unsecured texting to coordinate patient care. Medical staff need a way to quickly and securely exchange patient data with other caregivers, while adhering to hospital and IT department security mandates.

Not all secure texting apps are the same, though. Encrypted smartphone messaging software is specifically designed for healthcare and offers far more than just security. It includes additional levels of service such as integration with the hospital’s staff directory and on-call scheduling systems to help providers reach other members of the care team quickly.

The Benefits of Secure Text Messaging

Secure text messaging solutions for smartphones and tablets deliver fast, accurate, HIPAA-compliant communications. Texting among clinicians is a convenient way of sharing information and coordinating care for patients. It allows care team members to send detailed information such as pain medication requests, test results, and discharge questions, and receive alerts quickly. Secure texting enhances clinical workflows and maintains patient privacy while improving care quality and safety.

The Benefits of Encrypted Paging

The T5 (one way) and T52 (two-way) pagers—available exclusively from Spok—are among only a few devices available that offer an encrypted paging option. With secure messaging capabilities and display-lock security features, these devices provide a powerful tool for healthcare and emergency response communication. These devices are designed to be an integral part of any critical communication solution.

Linking to the Unified Communications Platform

Your mobile solutions should be linked to a powerful communication system where authorized and authenticated users can access your hospital’s full directory of accurate contact information and can send secure text messages, images, and videos to smartphones, tablets, and other devices. And you want to be able to rest assured that all critical communications are logged, with security, traceability, and reliability in mind.

Communication Tools Designed for Healthcare Workflows

Hospitals have recognized the need for communication tools designed specifically for healthcare’s complex work environment that can integrate information from a wide variety of inputs and disseminate it to any number of output systems and devices.

A secure texting app can be a filtering tool for physicians by organizing messages and alerts based on priority, and keeping work-related messages separate from personal notes and spam. A secure texting application can also escalate critical messages to another team member if the initial recipient does not respond quickly, and provide traceability to help staff close the communication loop.

Supporting Hospital Workflows With Secure Texting

A secure texting app should offer far more than just secure texting, enabling doctors and clinicians to improve many of their daily workflows. The app should plug smartphones, tablets, and Wi-Fi phones (and their users) into data, alerts, and messages previously not available on the move. It also should let a doctor reference the on-call schedule and request a consult from the appropriate colleague. It should allow a nurse to receive patient calls for assistance and determine the patient’s need, without requiring a visit to the patient’s room. Finally, it should notify staff when a patient monitor’s threshold has been reached.

Look for solutions that:

    • Meet HIPAA guidelines and protect PHI
    • Integrate with mobile device management (MDM) solutions
    • Create closed-loop communications with delivery confirmations, protecting sensitive patient details with encrypted, traceable messaging among doctors and other staff members

  • Support a wide variety of smartphones, pagers, and other devices
  • Allow access to the organization’s directory and send secure messages to any staff member, including the right on-call clinicians

Secure Communication Solutions That Work With Many Devices

Only 15 percent of physicians in an industry survey claim their hospital’s IT team has a mobile strategy to support clinical communications and collaborative, team-based care. So what do the doctors do instead? 96 percent report using unsecured SMS (texting) to coordinate care for patients, which puts physicians and hospitals at risk for HIPAA violations.

Since 96 percent of physicians also reported using consumer-grade smartphones as their primary device for clinical communications, one way to help address the risk to patient information is through a secure texting application that works on the device they already are using. Look for solutions that work with both user-owned and hospital-owned devices, including smartphones, in-hospital pagers, tablets, wide-area pagers, Wi-Fi phones, and more.

Get Help When You Need It With Consulting Services

Collaborative care initiatives, value-based reimbursements, and other emerging care and payment methodologies have placed tremendous pressure on hospital IT staffs to increase interoperability of technology systems. This emphasis takes time away from other crucial IT tasks such as maximizing the efficiency of existing hardware and software and deploying new mission-critical products

You don’t want a vendor that sells you technology and walks away. You want a vendor that is a partner, interested in your long-term success and willing to go the extra mile. And if you are looking for a resource to also help augment your own staff’s availability or skills, be sure your vendor will work with you on your communications plan from start to finish: laying out the desired results, implementing the solution(s), training staff, and helping measure the success of your project, providing as little—or as much—assistance as you need along the way.

Maximize the Value of Your Communications Investment

When tackling an enterprise communications project, look for consulting services that are designed to help you maximize the use and value of your communications solutions—technically, operationally, functionally, and clinically. You need a partner with decades of experience and a full range of services that combine best practices and the latest in communication solutions to give you unparalleled service to:

  • Scale deployments
  • Identify workflow efficiency improvements
  • Increase user adoption
  • Maximize value

A vendor should be able to coordinate the early planning stages of a project, provide workflow assessments, and support enterprise-wide rollout, as well as supply post-implementation training and data management. Throughout an engagement, the vendor should provide guidance based on real-world uses cases from other customers.

Additionally, look for a partner that can work with your team to identify key initiatives such as mergers, new workflows and integrations, and success metrics. Based on what is learned together, consulting services should provide recommendations for best practices and workflow improvements to align with your organizational goals, and meet your success criteria.​

A Business Needs Survey Can Help Guide Your Communications Enhancement

Your communications vendor should have deep experience in healthcare and a track record of helping hospitals enhance their communications and simplify their clinical workflow processes. Consulting services can help guide the scope of your enterprise software deployment. You’ll want to:

  • Establish organizational goals and success factors
  • Determine current business and individual stakeholder needs
  • Optimize enterprise solutions with industry best practices, while also taking your organization’s unique needs and processes into account
  • Review current workflows and other constraints
  • Assist with technical and functional design to provide scalable solutions

Managing an Enterprise Rollout to Maximize Organizational Benefit

You want to select a vendor that has worked with numerous organizations to support change management around their enterprise solutions, educate staff of the benefits, and manage rollout events to maximize employee adoption. You may ask your vendor to:

  • Assist with a variety of materials to help you best raise awareness and promote the rollout
  • Deliver onsite presentations to employees to raise awareness and build excitement
  • Help establish and support a pilot group
  • Provide hands‐on training to groups and individuals
  • Create solution evangelists and help them be successful
  • Assist with enterprise rollouts—phased planning and actually working with end users to swap out mobile devices, install apps, etc.


Find Opportunities for Greater Efficiencies With Solution Audits and Workflow Reviews

A software deployment is never truly over. You want a partner that will work with you to review and evaluate how you’re using the solution today, and how to improve. Auditing an already deployed solution will help you identify opportunities for greater efficiency and help prepare your organization for new solutions and product upgrades. This may include steps to:

  • Evaluate current solutions
  • Interview key users and document existing processes
  • Recommend improvements
  • Provide solution integrations
  • Outline scalability and redundancy options

Benefits of Data Management Assistance

You may also want assistance with data management, from planning through post implementation. You can enlist help to:

  • Help organize and input data
  • Build and maintain notification templates and message groups
  • Perform ongoing data analysis to ensure accuracy and consistency, including on‐call schedule validation, duplicate data investigation, and contact information accuracy validation and updating

Whether you are upgrading existing products or adding new ones, it is critical to carefully plan your implementation to help ensure seamless transitions, gain employee buy-in for process changes, and verify success. If your team is stretched thin and unable to complete any or all of these tasks, make sure you can count on your vendor to deliver the know-how and best-practice expertise to help you achieve your goals.