• Article
  • April 27, 2016

How Technology Aids Communication

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Texas Children’s Hospital integrated smartphone technology with nurse call and physiological alarms to provide team members with a consolidated communication tool.

By Teddy Durgin

Five years ago, Texas Children’s Hospital became the first pediatric facility in the United States and the first hospital in Texas to use Voalte smartphones. The goal was to provide a consolidated communication tool that would support complex, clinical workflows while enabling a highly mobile staff to communicate quickly via voice and secure text messages. Texas Children’s now has 3,000 smartphones that integrate with existing technologies such as nurse call and physiological alarms.

The challenge

As at most pediatric hospitals, the health care teams at Texas Children’s—from physicians to environmental services—are constantly on the move providing patient care and services. In such a dynamic environment, where communication can quickly become a matter of life or death, mobile communication is essential to ensuring everyone receives the right information at the right time.

“Our goal when we were evaluating a health care communication solution was to keep our nursing and clinical staff as the focus,” says Melita Howell, manager of Medical Device and Clinical Applications at Texas Children’s. “We wanted to put a single device in our end users’ hands that made their lives easier.”

In addition to the ability to communicate easily, Texas Children’s needed to ensure any new solution would enhance established workflows. “We wanted a central directory to make calling mobile staff members as easy as reaching out to someone with a desk phone,” Howell says. 

“We also wanted secure two-way text messaging and notifications from other systems—anything from an ‘I need to go to the bathroom’ request to a cardiac arrest alarm. We looked at the entire market to find the best solution, and landed on Voalte. It offered us the platform that allowed us to accomplish our key goals.”

“When we began our search, we realized not all vendors approach their solutions with the clinician’s experience in mind,” says John Henderson, assistant vice president of Information Services at Texas Children’s Hospital. “The focus on clinical workflows was one of the primary reasons we chose Voalte. We also felt the platform would get us to where we wanted to go from a communications perspective.”

The solution

With Voalte in place, clinicians start each shift by grabbing a Voalte smartphone from the unit’s charging station. After log-in, the device recognizes the employee’s specific phone number and automatically configures their individual profile preferences.

The Voalte directory is immediately updated to reflect that person’s availability, so everyone logged into Voalte One on a smartphone or Voalte Messenger on the web client can send and receive secure text messages and make high-definition voice calls across the hospital’s wireless network.

Additionally, Voalte integrates with other systems that transmit alarms and notifications to the appropriate smartphone. The Voalte directory was leveraged in a separate middleware solution to build central assignments for all clinical systems (nurse call, infant safety, cardiac monitors and patient flow) to streamline communication to endpoint devices. 

At Texas Children’s, there are 12 vendors included in the ecosystem that appears seamless to clinicians receiving notifications via Voalte. “The clinical workflows drove the selection, deployment, and expansion of Voalte, but interoperability was the key to controlling cost and complexity,” Henderson says.

Voalte impact

After Voalte deployment, the hospital saw immediate positive results. “When we first went live, routine communication became so much easier,” Howell says. “One of the big surprises we encountered was that texting rapidly became the preferred mode of communication, in place of voice calls.”

Howell also notes that clinicians are driving new use cases by taking advantage of integrations between Voalte and existing technologies. One of the biggest impacts has been the way the organization dispatches emergency response teams automatically through smart panels that integrate with the Voalte system. 

One example is automating the notification of a massive transfusion protocol (MTP), a situation where a patient’s life could be in jeopardy if he or she does not receive blood quickly enough. “We’re able to cut minutes off the calls to dispatch the MTP by simply pressing, ‘Emergency’ and then ‘MTP.’ The notice goes to all the team members’ Voalte phones in seconds, so response times are much better than what we’ve seen in the past,” Howell says.

Expansion

Moving forward, Voalte will offer additional benefits to hospitals like Texas Children’s with Voalte Platform, a complete health care communication solution that scales to accommodate future technologies. “Health care has huge issues right now with how to get a critical result to the right physician at the right time,” Howell says. 

“The physicians designated in the EMR care team may not be on the floor. It may be a resident or an intern who is providing immediate care in case a critical result comes in or the patient needs pain meds. Voalte Platform gives us role-based team assignments that complement traditional care teams and on-call schedules with dynamic updates.”

For other organizations considering adopting a health care communication platform, Henderson has some advice. “Understand the problems you’re trying to solve from a clinician’s perspective,” he says. “Then, look at the various vendors and how they integrate your organization into a single directory. Also, build consensus with key stakeholders. If the clinicians and administrative leadership within those areas don’t believe the solution can solve their problems, it will make for a long implementation.”

Learn more

See how another children's hospital, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital is using technology to improve patient safety and reducing alarm fatigue with a coordinated alarm management plan. Register today for the June 16 webinar "Improving Safety of Clinical Alarm Systems." This webinar details the strategies and processes used to manage care team communication and alarm notification in the Pediatric Cardiac ICU, Peds ICU, Peds Cardiac Transitional Care Unit and Intensive Care Nursery.

Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit health care organization, is committed to creating a healthier future for children and women throughout the global community by leading in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked as the best children’s hospital in Texas, and among the top in the nation, Texas Children’s has garnered widespread recognition for its expertise and breakthroughs in pediatric and women’s health. 

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