How To Improve Communication Between Clinicians

From May 25, 2012 article on InformationWeek

At Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock, staff communications are starting to get easier and more efficient. The 112-bed specialty hospital recently began rolling out Vortex Connect, a workforce communication tool that lets staff members set personal preferences in the way they want to receive information about scheduling, emergencies, and other issues.

While each employee can set his or her own personal preference for getting communications—including emails, texts, and voice messages–administrators sending the messages can target certain individuals, specific groups within a department, or an entire department.

The Vortex software makes it easier to send targeted messages based on staffer preferences, So if one nurse prefers to get text messages about open shifts, while another prefers to get a voice mail and a third like email, a staffing manager can direct notifications about the shift to all of them based on how they want to be notified. And since some shifts require nurses with specific skills (respiratory care, for example) the managers can be more accurate about who they are sending notifications.
Under the HITECH Act’s proposed rules for Meaningful Use stage 2, healthcare providers will be required to give patients access to their records, including information about recent office visits and hospitalizations. That means providers are going to have to make a lot of changes in how they communicate with patients. Among the tools expected to help make those changes happen: secure messaging, patient portals, and electronic scheduling features of EHRs.

Another aspect of healthcare communications that HITECH does not address but is nevertheless vitally important is notifying clinical staff. Staff notifications can range from letting nurses know in a timely way about the availability of shift changes, alerting doctors and other staff about emergency situations, to even warning staff about dangerous impending weather.

Besides allowing managers to quickly notify nurses of shift changes or the availability of hours, the workforce management and communications tool also lets other managers or administrators send out important information via their mobile devices. Staffers can also receive the information on their mobile devices.

“Being in tornado alley, being able to notify staff of that type of thing can be critical,” said Ray McKee, CIO of the Arkansas Heart Hospital.

At this Arkansas hospital, Vortex replaces emails and phone calls that managers would send manually to staff who, on their off-hours, might not check email or voice messages in a timely enough way to allow them to sign up for an available shift on short notice, for example.

Also, the tool allows the hospital to target emergency messages and “codes” for action that the organization doesn’t necessarily want broadcast over an intercom or public address system, he said. “Hospitals are good on codes,” he said. While some alerts, like a super-urgent, life or death Code Blue generally needs to be broadcast widely and immediately over the intercom to get all employees’ attention, other slightly less urgent codes are better suited for a more targeted base via channels other than the intercom, he said.

“You want to broadcast, but you don’t want to cause panic,” he said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. The Vortex communication tool allows notifications to be “quickly pushed out” to specific groups or individuals.

McKee said the Vortex communication tool is “built into” scheduling applications provided to Arkansas Heart Hospital from ADP, but can also be used unbundled and directly provided by Vortex. At press time, Arkansas Heart Hospital had piloted the Vortex with select groups of clinicians, but is planning to go live for all 900 employees very soon.

Neil Grunberg, VP of business development at Vortex, said the communication tools can also be integrated with a variety of third-party applications, including workforce management software from Kronos and Lawson enterprise resource planning systems from Infor. Grunberg said Vortex also works with various clinical software offerings from vendors like Cerner.

Before launching Vortex at Arkansas Health Hospital, “I was waffling just a bit,” said McKee. But “we were in the middle of a payroll migration, and if there’s a hiccup, no one gets paid,” he said. McKee decided later that the Vortex would’ve come in handy to let workers know that they could’ve come in to pick up their pay in person in case there were any issues during the payroll system migration, he said.

“It’s a useful tool to let people know what’s going on,” he said.

In fact, other healthcare organizations are learning that too. Grunberg says that about half of Vortex’s clients are in the healthcare sector. “Home healthcare is huge,” in terms of growth these days, as managers look to improve communication with field nurses, he said.

At some other healthcare organizations, employee web portals are the key medium for communication with staff. That’s the case at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where a secure employee portal is the primary method for keeping staff informed about everything ranging from organizational news, policies, to urgent messages.

When employees log on to the password protected portal, they are signed onto the various programs each are authorized to access, such as the work scheduling. If a user is inactive for a short amount of time, they’re automatically logged off and need to sign on again on the portal’s home screen. The portal can be accessed by remote authorized users, as well.

It is on this main portal screen where emergency notifications also appear within a two-inch “red line” across the display, said Cindy Whitcome, BIDMC director internal communications. BIDMC limits the “red line” for communicating to staff about very serious or urgent situations, most often coming from the organization’s emergency preparedness command center, she said.

“We use the red line very judiciously, for true emergencies” because BIDMC doesn’t want people to become complacent to overuse, she said. Over the last couple of years since the portal was launched, the red line has only been used a handful of times, including a tornado warning, major power outage and for the recent testing of a “fake contagious emergency,” she said.

“The red line isn’t about traffic jams, it’s about notifying a captive audience about very important information,” she said.