How communication connectivity and clarity is driving better patient outcomes

A matrix of challenges exists for today’s healthcare organisations. Budget pressure combined with staff shortages and an increased demand for services creates a difficult operational environment. The post-pandemic influx of patients requiring treatment for chronic conditions is adding a further level of complexity. Against this backdrop, buying decisions relating to operational infrastructure are made under the closest scrutiny. Put simply, decisions must work to deliver improvements – and work fast. Julien Bertheuil, Managing Director EMEA at Spectralink Corporation, looks at Unified Communications and its ability to foster collaboration, enhance efficiencies and, ultimately, improve patient care.

The healthcare sector is looking at every area of operational performance to establish where inefficiencies exist and where improvements can be made to help healthcare professionals (HCPs) deliver their best work. One area attracting scrutiny is communications – how HCPs connect and communicate with one another within fast-paced, multi-level, distributed healthcare environments. Specifically, Unified Communications (UC) describes the process by which multiple communication methods (voice, data, apps and more) are integrated within one phone system. Common tools like instant messaging, web conferencing, voicemail and email improve responsiveness and ensure the timely exchange of information. Such systems can drive greater levels of interaction between colleagues and eliminate siloes of operation that can delay decision-making. In the healthcare environment, UC is increasingly being recognised for its ability to connect teams and foster collaboration, to the benefit of the healthcare facility, its staff and its patients. The mobile devices used within these UC environments are the tools by which information is relayed, and it is important that these devices are designed with the unique challenges of the sector in mind. Some important differentiators exist between available systems.

Communication clarity

One such differentiator is voice quality. When talking to a friend or colleague on a typical mobile phone, it’s generally considered acceptable if you have to occasionally ask them to repeat themselves or even if the call drops. But for on-site healthcare professionals, the expectation and need is for a reliable, clear call every time. The challenge arises when teams are functioning from different levels in large, distributed environments. Additionally, the constraints of the hospital – the overhead alarms, the thick walls, even the elevators – can get in the way of making a clear call. Scrambled or partial messages are not an option. Mishearing or missing critical calls can have serious repercussions. This is an environment where medication is being administered, and the right dosage must be given at the right time, every time. Mobile devices must deliver exceptional clarity wherever they are used within the facility.

Dedicate more time to patients

The high turnover rate in clinical environments makes it essential that clinical solutions designed to enhance collaboration are in place between multi-disciplinary care teams to provide more efficient and correct patient care. Such solutions play a critical role in easing nurse burnout and improving patient outcomes.

Healthcare organizations should put systems and tools in place that support these critical frontline workers to help ease their burden and re-engage them in a job where any lack of engagement can adversely affect patient care.

Consider, the typical work pattern of a nurse. Reports suggest that an average 12-hour day shift will require a nurse to walk about five miles between visiting the pharmacy, checking doses and updating clinical records, time in transit which accounts for a significant portion of the day. Enterprise mobility solutions within a UC environment can help to expedite administrative tasks and enable clinicians and nurses to dedicate more time to patients. Nurses are able to call up drugs from the pharmacy directly from the patient bedside, or log treatment times and dosages directly from their portable devices wherever they are. Care teams can safely exchange critical information in real-time, from patient handoffs to lab results, to prescribed treatments, and collaborate more effectively on treatment plans. Time away from the patient is reduced, and healthcare professionals feel more empowered and less rushed.

The same is true for clinicians who by using their mobile device from any location within the facility are able to cut the time spent going back to their offices to input information on a PC. Automated adherence to mandatory clinical workflows and interoperability with leading platforms and medical applications allows staff to confirm medications and access, and update and share electronic health records and clinical information without leaving the patient’s side.

Investing in the right tools for these frontline workers will show they are valued. Valuing healthcare workers can ease their burdens, help decrease burnout, improve satisfaction, and reduce staff turnover.

Tailored to the healthcare sector

Professionals in the sector are benefitting from communication devices that have been designed with functionality that is specifically geared towards the healthcare environment. Keeping healthcare data secure is a particularly crucial example.

Patient confidentiality is extremely important. It is vital to ensure people do not face prejudice and discrimination. Some hospitals prevent staff from taking mobile phones into restricted areas such as wards or pharmacies with a view to protecting sensitive patient data and avoiding the risk of patients or visitors inappropriately accessing confidential information. Whilst this may be secure, the resulting lack of mobile communication can also limit collaboration and slow down decision-making. Other facilities adopt a bring your own device (BYOD) approach as a means of saving money. If devices that leave the healthcare campus are lost or stolen, sensitive patient data can land in the wrong hands.

Today’s enterprise devices are able to overcome these concerns, enabling a secure “lockdown” mode to be employed when the device is not in use. In this way, healthcare professionals can stay connected in the knowledge that any data held on the device is secure.

Security of staff

Another key concern for the sector is the safety of staff, particularly in light of reports that abuse and assaults on HCPs are on the rise. Again, sector-specific technology can play an important role here. Peace of mind is provided by handsets that incorporate easy to action, handsfree alarms or motion sensors that issue alerts if users are detected falling, running or making no movement. Such devices may even be critical enablers for psychiatric nurses or night shift workers.

Of course, a device is only useful if it is powered-up and ready to go. Managing battery usage across a fleet of devices can be a challenge for any facility. Devices are passed from one user to another between shifts, and nobody has time for lengthy recharging. Running out of power at a critical time is a real threat. Hot battery swap functionality eases such concerns by enabling battery changes to be made without the device turning off or losing functionality during the changeover.

Any devices used within a healthcare environment must also be robust enough to withstand regular cleaning and sterilisation. The sharing of devices throughout a facility raises concerns relating to hygiene, particularly where handsets may come into contact with biological waste. Tailored devices for the sector are specifically designed with surfaces and membranes that can be readily and regularly cleansed.

Connectivity and collaboration for improved outcomes

An increasing number of healthcare decision-makers are recognising the value of a Unified Communications set-up, understanding the advantages that true mobile connectivity can deliver in terms of operational efficiency, HCP performance and wellbeing and, ultimately, patient care. The sector has unique challenges but the latest devices recognise and overcome these challenges through expert design. Such solutions seamlessly integrate with existing hospital networks and applications, simplifying tools into a single multi-purpose device. HCPs can communicate with whom they need when they need them – with immediate and reliable voice, text, or other alerts, all in a durable and secure device that fits easily and comfortably into a scrub pocket.

As with all technology solutions there are key differentiators to consider. Devices designed specifically to address the unique challenges of the sector can quickly put healthcare facilities on the front foot. The advantages are clear. If HCPs can stay connected and share information with clarity and security, then administrative tasks are made simpler, decisions can be taken in situ, and more time can be spent with patients.

About the author
Julien Bertheuil has more than twenty years’ experience in the IT, mobile and electronics industries. His background as sales director in Acer, where he first led the smartphone commercial unit, then later headed the smart products and IoT sales team, guides his approach to the strategic implementation of commercial strategies that effectively support business goals.

Now at Spectralink he heads the EMEA region taking a communications-led collaborative approach with partners and team members to fulfil the objective of developing new markets and revenue streams. As an award winner in mobile technology, Spectralink has been transforming the way their customers work and communicate for 30 years.
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