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Advanced communications and collaboration: The next step in healthcare modernization

March 10, 2023
Business Affairs Health IT
By Dr. Andrew Brooks
By Dr. Andrew Brooks

Data collection and storage have undergone a vast digital modernization effort in the US healthcare industry. Amazing tools can produce digital files that go into Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems. New procedures using new devices are saving lives. We should all be proud of these accomplishments – but not rest on those laurels.

The ongoing challenge is communication and collaboration. Our basic workflows – the way we make use of all this investment in digital data – are still rooted in an analog era. Improving staff communications is the next step in improving patient care, reducing staff burnout and lowering costs for providers. Some of those new life-saving procedures are only effective if we can administer them quickly. That means a great many people, several departments and support staff must work together efficiently, with no wasted time. New tools, like Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) platforms are available. Sadly, we are not using them throughout the healthcare system.

In many hospitals, pagers are still used to alert physicians and others to the need for action. That action is delayed by a frustrating game of telephone tag before any real information can be exchanged. And in many cases, the data transfer technology is a fax machine. We came a long way on the back end of care with EMRs. The front end of care delivery is where minutes matter and a lot of people need to coordinate quickly.

Relics of the 20th century slow care delivery
Within the U.S., it is estimated that nearly 40% of healthcare providers are still using paging systems as a means of care team communication. That’s about two million pagers being used within the healthcare system today. They are largely uni-directional and virtually devoid of any context. Every page looks the same. Those two factors can contribute to alert fatigue which we all know is a huge contributor to the staff burnout washing across the healthcare system.

Pagers were conceived in the 20th century as a long-range tap on the shoulder. They are one-to-one devices, focusing on whoever is wearing that pager at that particular moment. And like any tap on the shoulder, they can be ignored if you’re involved in other matters.

Today, we need process drivers that engage teams, not just individuals, and empower them with information. Pagers can’t transmit actual patient data because of their technological limitations – and they are not HIPAA-compliant anyway. So, they actually sit outside the systems we’ve already modernized, providing no additional leverage or utilization of the technology investments already made.

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