Category Archives: Clinician Communications

Terry Edwards

The role of secure communications in your clinical integration strategy

By Terry Edwards  /  14 Apr 2017

If you could take one solution with you on your journey to clinical integration, what would it be?

Clinical integration is the unification of healthcare data, services and coordination across acute, outpatient and post-acute care. It portrays an environment where waste and inefficiency are all but eliminated from healthcare communications, costs decrease and care improves. It’s the future of medicine.

You wouldn’t be far off course if your first thought was to rely heavily on the EHR to support your clinical integration strategy. While the EHR is a valuable tool for sharing patient information within hospital systems and broader care networks, it lacks a fundamental quality that bridges the gaps between Meaningful Use and true clinical integration.

Fully realized clinical integration can only occur when the barriers of communication have been broken down, and interdisciplinary clinicians can accurately and reliably coordinate care in real time across organizational and geographical boundaries. As with most things related to healthcare communication and the sharing of information across disparate networks, securing those communications has been and will continue to be a primary focus for healthcare IT leaders. In an environment where healthcare organizations are driving toward an end-goal of clinical integration, enabling secure communications alone just isn’t enough.

To achieve clinical integration, clinicians need a solution that enables immediate, accurate, reliable and secure communications.

Immediacy in healthcare communication

Real-time communication is a crucial element of delivering high-value care. In the most critical emergencies, every second counts. The time that clinicians waste identifying the right on-call care team member to contact, and then trying to reach that person, can quite literally be the difference between life and death. Even in non-emergent situations, early detection and treatment are well-known effective preventers of worsening conditions.

Yet it’s all too common for inefficient and broken communication workflows to create time-consuming hurdles for clinicians to clear—sometimes even to just begin the conversation.

Clinically integrated settings approach clinician-to-clinician communication with a sense of real-time urgency. That’s not to say that every message should be sent with an emergency status, just that the process of identifying the provider you need to connect to and the delivery of that message should be seamless and immediate.

Reaching the right care team member on the first attempt should be an important metric for all hospital systems. To keep performance numbers high in this area, you must ensure clinicians always know exactly whom to contact for any given medical issue.

However, most clinicians today initiate time-sensitive contact to the broader care team by thumbing through a lengthy paper-based on-call schedule, making a call, and then waiting to receive a response.

Real-time clinical communication and collaboration tools immediately deliver secure communications, and even allow the clinician initiating the communication to see in real time when messages are delivered and read.

Contact accuracy

Reaching providers on the first attempt is important, but it’s just as important to reach the right provider—the one who can act on the medical issue at that moment—via his or her preferred method of contact.

It’s not uncommon for providers to have a different preferred contact medium for every variance of their schedule. And it’s not uncommon for those schedules to change at a moment’s notice. Yet many hospitals, in both small and large systems, only print the schedule and patient assignment lists once per day.

Clinicians in this setting have no way of knowing if they are accurately reaching out to the right providers via the right contact method. Manually producing a list of whom to contact and how is a process riddled with opportunity for inefficiency and inaccuracy.

Dynamic Intelligent Routing™ eliminates those opportunities for communication breakdown. A distinct capability of PerfectServe Synchrony®, Dynamic Intelligent Routing analyzes workflows, call schedules and contact preferences, enabling clinicians to reach the right person at the right time with just the tap of a button.

Reliable communication workflows

If your clinicians depend on inaccurate call schedules or outdated, cumbersome processes to drive clinical communications, your communication workflow isn’t reliable.

When clinicians can immediately contact the care team member they need via that provider’s preferred contact method, communication workflows become reliable and trustworthy, which leads to high adoption and improved patient care, no matter the care setting.

From improved care coordination to reduced costs

Inefficient communication workflows not only interfere with the realization of clinical integration, but also they inflate healthcare costs. For example, if a radiologist identifies a critical result in an outpatient test, the radiologist needs to contact the patient’s PCP so action can be taken right away. If the communication is not immediate, accurate or reliable, the process breaks down and the delay could result in medical complications for the patient that end up costing more to treat.

Moving a patient safely through the admissions, treatment, discharge and post-acute care processes requires a tremendous amount of coordination, good communication and a sound clinical integration strategy. The tools you use to support that communication and collaboration will play an important role in your success.

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Healthcare is Ripe for Tools to Enable Value-Based Collaborative Care

Terry Edwards

3 takeaways from HIMSS17

By Terry Edwards  /  28 Feb 2017

More than 41,000 healthcare IT and clinical leaders converged on Orlando last week for the annual HIMSS Conference & Exhibition. This event generates a lot of industry buzz and, for some organizations, sets the stage for the year in terms of strategic focus and planning.

As I looked through the educational sessions offered in this year’s curriculum, I found it striking that nearly half of the 20 education tracks elevated the need for secure, real-time and reliable clinical communication and collaboration.

From “The Business of Healthcare and New Payment Models” track to the “Quality and Patient Safety Outcomes” track, attendees received an abundance of information pertinent to the strategic goals the industry will focus on in the year to come — goals that need a foundational infrastructure of secure clinical communications.

Here are three areas that I see most affected by the need for improved care team collaboration:

  1. Care coordination, value-based care and population health

The level of care coordination needed to successfully adapt to value-based payment models requires interdisciplinary clinicians to easily and securely communicate within — and beyond — the walls of the hospital. Regardless of affiliated organizations or geographical locations, these clinicians need instant access to the broader care team — and the patient — and they must have the ability to quickly send and receive critical PHI. This will enable hospitals and large systems not only to succeed in value-based care, but also to reduce costs and lay the necessary foundation for true clinical integration and population health.

(I talk more about this in my blog post “Healthcare is ripe for tools to enable value-based collaborative care” — read it here.)

  1. Technology, infrastructure and security

To achieve the level of care coordination required to truly address value-based payment models, organizations have to build a secure and compliant technological infrastructure that supports device standards and the communication protocols of the various workgroups that make up dynamic care teams.

Privacy, security and compliance will continue to be important objectives; the foundation of these objectives is an infrastructure that meets requirements without impeding communication and collaboration. This means automatically and seamlessly sharing information through mobile applications that are easy to use and easy to incorporate into existing workflows. Only then will we have tools that will achieve the levels of adoption necessary to make them truly impactful.

It seems like an arduous task, but it’s one we cannot shy away from.

  1. Analytics, process improvement and clinician engagement

As a result of the digitization that has occurred over the past decade, the industry has amassed a significant amount of clinical data. The farther we go down the road toward clinical integration and real value-based care, even more data will be created. To make lasting improvements and affect positive change, we have to harness this data and make it useful.

By gathering and analyzing data related to patient conditions and behaviors, intelligent decisions can be made automatically via technologies that reduce the cognitive load on clinicians by presenting only the information that is relevant to them and requires their actions. This will support value-based care and patient compliance and experience, as well as reduce costs by streamlining workflows and better engaging physicians.

In the same vein, HIMSS17 attendees were heavily focused on the topics of cognitive healthcare and actionable intelligence. Keynote speaker Ginni Rometty, CEO at IBM, spoke about this new era of medicine and challenged healthcare leaders to step up and “build this world.”

“We’re in a moment when we can actually transform pieces of healthcare. It’s within our power,” Rometty said during her HIMSS17 keynote. “This era that will play out in front of us can change the world for the better.”

The industry is changing at a speed that we haven’t seen before. This really is the time for healthcare leaders to make their voices heard and to take part in shaping the future healthcare landscape.

And it’s exciting to know that PerfectServe is in the thick of it with you — building a foundation of secure and immediate clinical communications across the broader care continuum that’s needed to achieve the goals discussed in the majority of the educational tracks at this year’s event.

Looking forward to seeing you all again next year.

HIMSS18
March 5-9, 2018
Las Vegas, Nevada

Terry Edwards

How much is your answering service really costing you?

By Terry Edwards  /  16 Feb 2017

The inevitable mistakes made by a traditional after-hours answering service aren’t often attributed to significant costs that may be undercutting the success of your practice. But if you consider that quality communication between members of your staff and your patients—especially after-hours—is a fundamental pillar of patient care and safety, you’ll start to see that little mistakes can add up to big costs.

Physicians and group practice administrators throughout the country will attest that answering services make mistakes that cause clinical communication breakdowns. The human error factor in the answering service equation means lost or delayed messages, wrong patient names, inaccurate symptom descriptions and more. For a long time, it’s simply been considered the status quo. There didn’t seem to be any real way around it.

So an industry-wide acceptance that on-call duty will be frustrating for physicians, and that mornings—especially Monday mornings—will always present some answering-service-related issues for the practice administrator to handle has taken hold. And while these inconveniences may not seem like a big red flag, it’s wise to get a good look at how far-reaching the impacts really are.

Are your patients getting the best care, even after hours?

Patients will generally stay loyal to a practice because they trust their doctor. But if they feel like their medical needs are not given the same sense of urgency that they’re feeling—or worse, if their questions go unanswered—that trust can quickly dissolve into frustration and fear. For some patients, despite their relationship with the physician, this can be a reason to leave the practice and find a new provider.

So, while you may or may not lose the recurring revenue of a loyal patient, you have to consider the cost of that patient’s negative experience.

If one patient has had an unsatisfying experience with your answering service, others probably have, too. So the real question becomes: how much is your answering service impacting patient satisfaction?

Are you spending your time the way you want?

It’s difficult to tie a hard cost directly to the frustration of wading through miscommunications to get to the bottom of an issue. And it might not be possible to calculate the profit margin impact of the feeling that you cannot deliver the level of patient care you want because there is a weak link in your communications process. But the time you spend managing answering service mistakes is time that could be spent on patient care, so the equally important consideration here is the quality of that time.

The time you spend feeling frustrated and inconvenienced—by non-emergency after-hours calls, for example—does have a cost. It’s a personal calculation and it has a real impact on physician satisfaction.

Are you at risk for fines, penalties or lawsuits?

Some unlucky practices have discovered one of the answering service industry’s best kept secrets: subcontracting.

Some of the answering services that exist today are actually not answering services at all. They are simply businesses that subcontract the work out to another answering service—one that may or may not adhere to HIPAA compliance standards. It’s a risk that no practice leader would knowingly take. With so many unknowns, a practice in this situation is at real risk for fines and other breach penalties.

And then consider this worst-case scenario: a patient unknowingly suffering a stroke calls after hours to report blurred vision and confusion; but because the answering service’s on-call schedules are not accurate, the patient’s message isn’t delivered to the correct on-call physician for another hour. At this point, given the time sensitivity of this issue, the practice could be at risk for a malpractice suit.

An incident like this—however unlikely it may be—could mean a tangible financial loss for your practice.

But that’s not all.

Are you protecting your reputation?

Imagine a critical care surgeon with his own practice who routinely performed emergent consults for local hospitals…until they stopped calling. The hospital felt his answering service was unable to deliver messages in a timely manner, and so they found other practitioners to fill that need.

Your credibility as a caregiver in your local healthcare community can be negatively affected if outside consultants and hospitals cannot reach you quickly in times of emergency. The professional impact of a tarnished reputation is beyond quantifiable. And if the reason is answering service communication delays, it’s also unacceptable.

Are you sure you’ve uncovered the hidden fees?

Most answering services are up front about their fees, but physician leaders and practice managers seldom realize how many fee-based activities they’re actually charged for on a single after-hours call:

  • There’s a fee for taking the message.
  • There could be a fee for relaying that message to the right clinician.
  • There could be another fee for relaying the clinician’s instructions back to the patient, if that’s the case.
  • There could be yet another fee for recording and logging the conversation as a whole, or a fee for recording and logging each communication.

These little fees can add up over time to a surprisingly significant amount.

Are you ready for a better solution?

We live in an era of digital clinical communication, with automated tools that eliminate human error in after-hours communication, provide caller ID protection for physician contact information, and have the ability to recognize and defer non-urgent messages until business hours resume.

Imagine an on-call weekend when non-urgent prescription refill messages are deferred until Monday and the physician’s days are spent as planned (i.e., enjoying time off unless there are true emergencies).

Imagine walking into the practice every morning knowing that all your patients received the care or assurance they needed after hours and there will be no complaints to handle.

You can take a hard look at your answering service’s monthly invoice to understand the hard costs, but those are not the only ones to consider. The less quantifiable effect on your patient safety and satisfaction levels, your physician satisfaction levels, your compliance risk and your professional reputation are serious issues you should consider—because they really do cost your practice.

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INFOGRAPHIC: Top 10 reasons your practice needs PerfectServe
PerfectServe Synchrony™ is the modern, secure call management platform designed to give you greater control over your clinical communications.

Terry Hayes

Optimize rapid response team efforts with automated, real-time communication

By Terry Hayes, MSN, CPNP, CNOR  /  12 Jan 2017

Agnes Cappabianca worked as a stroke nurse manager at NYU Lutheran Medical Center, a Brooklyn-based teaching hospital. She was in the middle of a shift when the unthinkable happened—she suffered a stroke and found herself admitted to the hospital as a patient in her own ward.

The hospital’s rapid response team (RRT)—one that Agnes had helped train and prepare for these critical situations—sprang into action. Within 30 minutes, the team had final results of her CT scan and blood tests and began to administer tPA treatment.

Her role in advocating advances in stroke care within the hospital seems to have saved her life.

The primary goal of rapid response

The American Heart Association and the American Stoke Association® have warned since 2010 that “the benefits of tPA in patients with acute ischemic stroke are time-dependent.” The associations’ guidelines recommend a door-to-needle time of 60 minutes or less for the treatment to be effective.

In most hospital settings, the process for communicating the needs of a newly admitted stroke patient to care team members is manually intensive. These workflows usually have many steps, numerous decision points and multiple handoffs—creating many opportunities for communication breakdowns and delays in a situation in which every second counts.

One of the primary goals all RRTs strive for should be to reduce the number of steps in the communication process—including the number of decision points, communication handoffs and number of people involved in transmitting the information.

Some hospitals have achieved this goal by implementing a unified communication and collaboration solution that automates many of the steps in the RRT process, such as sending notifications to all team members—including team leadership—at the same time. With just one call, schedules are analyzed and the appropriate care team members are identified and contacted simultaneously—based on their preferred contact method.

This eliminates numerous steps and players from the communication processes and makes significant strides toward improving patient outcomes by speeding time to treatment.

Building an effective rapid response protocol

Pre-planning is required for a communication platform to optimize the capabilities of RRTs. Evidence based guidelines and individual hospital protocols determine the number and composition of responding teams. Some hospitals assign different care team members to different teams depending on urgency levels.

For example, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township, Michigan, has two RRTs. One is dedicated to Level II traumas and does not include an anesthesiologist in the alert system because Level II trauma patients rarely require advanced airway management. However, the Level I trauma RRT—the team assigned to the most critical cases—does include an anesthesiologist.

Deciding whom to alert depending on the urgency of the situation is a key factor in RRT success.

Another important factor is identifying timelines for each care team member’s arrival at the patient’s bedside. For St. Rita’s Medical Center, a 419-bed hospital in Lima, Ohio, the pre-set arrival time for the rapid response nurse is three minutes; it’s five minutes for their 4A nurse. St. Rita’s also set guidelines for both the physician arrival and ordering of the CT scan at 10 minutes.

An effective communication platform feature that aids RRT outcomes is an automated callback and escalation process. This eliminates critical minutes being wasted on resending notifications and manually escalating the issue to another provider when team members do not arrive on time.

The proof is in the results

St. John Hospital and Medical Center (SJHMC) in Detroit aimed to comply with the guidelines set by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, all of which call for having CT scans interpreted within 45 minutes of the patient’s arrival and having treatment administered within 60 minutes.

SJHMC implemented PerfectServe Synchrony™ and used the flexibility of the platform to develop its stroke team protocol. The protocol called for alerts to a multidisciplinary team of nurses, physicians and staff from neurology, the ED and neurosurgery, as well. Each team member’s preferred method of contact was configured in PerfectServe Synchrony so that when a stroke alert is sent from the ED, each member (or their on-call counterpart) is contacted via their preferred method.

The ability to contact team members directly on their personal mobile devices, as opposed to using overhead paging systems, eliminates the potential for missed pages.

After the system and process were implemented, SJHMC saw significant improvements in time to treatment for its stroke patients. The on-call neurologists’ response times dropped 90%, from 22 minutes to just 2 minutes.

Graph 1

Their door-to-CT scan completion time decreased 41%, from 78 minutes to 46 minutes.

Reduce communication times

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, SJHMC was able to administer life-saving tPA to three times more stroke patients than they were before.

Making lasting, life-saving process improvements

Most hospitals in the Unites States have some version of an RRT in place for major medical events. Some hospitals have even included local EMS organizations in their rapid alert processes in order to improve speed-to-treatment times.

There’s no question that streamlined and automated communication aids RRTs in their work to lower mortality rates for stroke patients and other traumatic injuries.

Rapid response alerts have proven benefits for clinicians, too. Having a rapid response alert program in place eliminates stress and frustration for the ED staff, which usually has the primary responsibility of initiating treatment to stroke and trauma patients.

In addition to simultaneous instant alerts to appropriate response team members, PerfectServe Synchrony’s rapid response alert system also sends activation notices to hospital leadership. These notices include the time the alert was activated and the time each care team member arrived (as input by the nurses involved). This additional insight into rapid response operations gives healthcare leaders the opportunity to identify problem areas and make lasting process improvements that ultimately save more lives.

 

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When communications work, patients win
In every hospital, communication is at the heart of what care teams do. Physicians need to communicate with one another for consultations; nurses need to reach physicians to update them and receive treatment order. Case managers need to communicate with nurses and physicians to ensure on-time discharges and proper care transitions.

Terry Edwards

Safeguarding security: 4 tactics for secure clinical communication and collaboration

By Terry Edwards  /  29 Jul 2016

I had the honor of speaking at the 2016 Becker’s Hospital Review Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Summit, discussing the elements needed to truly secure clinical communications with some of the best minds in the healthcare world. With a number of recent high profile news stories announcing ransomware attacks in hospitals and health systems, security and the ability to secure clinical information is top of mind for many.

Those who oversee organizational data and IT systems recognize the importance of securing communication channels containing ePHI as they build a unified communications strategy. While security and regulatory mandates are essential elements of a clinical communication strategy, to create a truly successful strategy, the needs of those who provide care: physicians, nurses, therapists and others on the care team – in any setting – at any time – must be addressed flawlessly and securely.

To do so, there a few tactics to keep in mind:

Understand what the HIPAA Security Rule actually states – There’s been a lot of confusion in the industry when it comes to HIPAA compliance and communication. I often notice that many organizations think this is all about secure text messaging, which is incomplete. The Security Rule never speaks to a particular technology or communications modality, application or device. It is technology neutral.

HIPAA compliance is about the system of physical, administrative and technical safeguards that your organization puts in place to to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all ePHI it creates, receives, maintains or transmits. Because of this, there is no such thing as a HIPAA-compliant app.

Understand care team dynamics – Care team members are mobile and they employ workflows to receive communication based upon situational variables such as origin, purpose, urgency, day, time, call schedules, patient and more. The variables determine who should be contacted and how to do so for every communications event.

For this reason, third parties (hospital switchboards and answering services) and disparate technologies are used in organizations’ clinical communication processes. Understanding this variety of technologies and actors is key to accurately assessing your organization’s compliance risk. And, coming up with strategies to effectively address that risk is key.

Secure text messaging is essential, but it’s not sufficient – While secure messaging is an essential component of your overall strategy, it’s not sufficient because:

  1. it requires the sender to always know who it is they need to reach—by name.
  2. it requires the recipient to always be available to other care team members 24/7.

These requirements are inconsistent with the complexity inherent in communication workflows that enable time-sensitive care delivery processes, because they don’t address the situational variables I described above.

Secure messaging is only one piece of what should be a much larger communications strategy—one that should address clinician workflows and multi-modal communications channels for all care team members.

Your goal should be to enable more effective care team collaboration – Organizations often focus on achieving HIPAA-compliance. This is a flawed objective. The focus should be on achieving more effective care team collaboration. If this is done effectively, achieving HIPAA-compliance will come along for the ride.

Six essential capabilities – An effective secure clinical communications and collaboration strategy will include the following six elements.

  1. It will facilitate communication-driven workflows that enable time-sensitive care delivery processes. An example of a communications-driven workflow is stroke diagnosis and treatment. When a patient with stroke symptoms presents in the ED, one of the first things the ED physician does is initiate a communications workflow to contact the neurologist covering that ED at that moment in time, while simultaneously notifying and mobilizing a stroke team to complete a CT scan to determine if it is safe to administer tPA, the drug that arrests the stroke. Time is critical. Healthcare is chock full of these kinds of workflows, executed every day in every hospital by the hundreds and thousands.
  1. It will provide technology that automatically identifies and provides an immediate connection to the right care team member for any given clinical situation—this is nursing’s greatest need! Your strategy should be to bypass third parties and eliminate all the manual tools and processes used to figure out who’s in what role right now given the situation at hand. Ignoring this need means you won’t achieve adoption, which means your organization will still be at risk.
  1. It should extend beyond any department and the four walls of the hospital. It should enable cross-organizational communication workflows. This is increasingly important under value-based care where care team members must collaborate across interdependent organizations to deliver better care.
  1. It should secure the creation, transmission and access of ePHI across all communication modalities—not just text messaging. Enough said!
  1. It should integrate with your other clinical systems to leverage the data within those systems to facilitate new communication workflows. This is key to enabling “real-time healthcare.”
  1. It should provide analytics to monitor your communication processes and continuously improve those processes over time.

With these capabilities in place, secure clinical communication simply becomes another positive result of implementing a broader care team collaboration strategy, designed to address clinical efficiency and improve patient care delivery.