Lessons Learned from an Important Voice in Cross-Organizational Communication

Charting the most efficient path for critical patient communications within a complex care team is a tall order. When a large and complex team of care providers must work together—which is not a rare occurrence—communication breakdowns are all too common.

Mary Hatcher
Mary Hatcher, VP of Product Development
PerfectServe

Preventing these complex communication challenges requires forethought about the solutions required to move information accurately and efficiently from one care provider to the next. Mary Hatcher, Vice President of Product Development at PerfectServe, recently authored a guest blog about on this very topic for Healthcare IT Today. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Complex communication challenges most often occur immediately after discharge, when a patient is moving from the hospital to another setting, or with patients who have overlapping chronic conditions that require multiple specialists
  • EHRs are not equipped to solve the communication issues that frequently arise during complex care transitions
  • Healthcare organizations need a standardized communication process with tools and infrastructure that connect all members of a patient’s care team
  • The use of web and mobile applications facilitates real-time communication and collaboration across different care settings

To learn more, read the full article titled “How Clinical Communications Technology Connects the Care Team In Complex Cases” at Healthcare IT Today.

4 reasons why patient education should be a priority

physician patient education

As providers continue to evolve away from fee-for-service healthcare and towards a value-based care system, patient education is becoming more important than ever.

Value-based healthcare’s focus on outcomes and, consequently, what happens outside the “four walls” of the healthcare organization, requires a renewed focus on patient education to help combat chronic illnesses, increase preventative care, reduce readmissions and lower expenses.

When it comes down to it, an informed patient who understands their condition and corresponding treatment plan is one of the most important factors in achieving the goals of value-based healthcare.

Here are four reasons why patient education should be a strategic priority for healthcare organizations across the nation.

Reimbursements

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) noted that by 2018, 50 percent of all Medicare reimbursements should be tied to value-based care. The HSS also wants value-based reimbursements for 2016 to come to 30 percent—in other words, the HSS plans for healthcare organizations throughout the country to begin transitioning away from fee-for-service and towards value-based care.

With the traditional fee-for-service model, providers received compensation based on volume: they’d see as many patients as possible, and order tests and procedures without regard to cost. With value-based care, alternatively, providers will begin to focus more so on evidence-based medicine, preventative and tailored treatments, and, of course, patient education, in order to increase quality of care while also keeping expenses down.

Increasing patient education efforts through social media campaigns, text-based outreach platforms, informative web videos, email marketing, podcasts, community lectures, and brochures are examples of inexpensive means for a provider to adapt to the new value-based model without having to completely restructure their organization.

Preventing chronic illness

Back in 2012, roughly half of American adults—or approximately 117 million people—were diagnosed with one or more chronic illnesses or health conditions. In fact, that year, one out of every four adults had two or more chronic conditions.

Currently, approximately 133 million Americans suffer from one or more chronic illnesses like diabetes, depression, or asthma—and the numbers are only increasing. Seventy to 80 percent of total health care costs are directly tied to the treatment of chronic illnesses. In short, the treatment of chronic illnesses is a major concern for the American medical community.

One of the most successful means of combating chronic illnesses is through patient education. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, can’t be treated through medical attention alone; patients require self-management, such as proper diet, to treat these illnesses as well. Studies have shown that patient education delivers results.

review of over 40 studies on diabetes patients noted that when providers encouraged “patient-oriented interventions,” patients’ health improved, and some even established positive glycemic control. Patient education should be viewed as a strategic weapon in the fight against the progression of chronic diseases in the United States.

Reducing costs

Unnecessary patient readmission is a costly issue that currently plagues our nation’s healthcare system. In fact, it’s estimated that these readmissions cost the U.S. government roughly $17 billion each year.

Additionally, it’s estimated that one out of every five Medicare patients will be readmitted into a hospital within a month following treatment. Readmissions, either due to over-cautiousness, carelessness, or patients relapsing, are a sizable expense that healthcare providers need to avoid.

But how can providers cut down on readmissions while also avoiding additional expenses?

Patient education can help providers to inform patients on the proper self-managed care needed to avoid readmissions. Additionally, with increased patient education efforts, providers can help patients understand the care setting most appropriate for their condition.

Uninformed patients sometimes seek treatment in the Emergency Room (ER) for minor issues when an Urgent Care Center, for example, would be much more appropriate. The ER is one of the most expensive healthcare settings, and patients should only seek it out when necessary—and not for minor concerns. But patients continue to seek ER treatment in ever-increasing numbers. In fact, ER visits have risen steadily over the last few years. According to a survey of 2,098 ER physicians by the American College of Emergency Physicians, three-quarters of the doctors surveyed noted that visits rose steadily from January 2014 to March 2015. Additionally, one-quarter of doctors noted a “significant increases in all emergency patients” since 2014.

Educating patients on when and where they should seek treatment will help to streamline the overall healthcare process and lower overall ER visits.

Saving time

Primary care doctors are increasingly short on time. Since fee-for-service care is structured around the concept of treating as many patients as possible, doctors usually try to squeeze in a high volume of patients during their workday.

In fact, in 2014, general practitioners and family physicians reported seeing an average of roughly 90 patients each week. It’s typical for doctors to also schedule short, 15-minute appointments, but some physicians try to keep appointments to no longer than 11 minutes. These short appointments not only make it difficult for patients to communicate with their doctors, but doctors are becoming burned-out with the rapid-paced appointments: A 2012 study noted that 30 percent of doctors between the ages of 35 and 49 plan to retire within the next five years.

With value-based care, doctors will begin to treat fewer patients, focusing more so on achieving positive results as opposed to booking a steady stream of appointments. However, in order to help doctors free up their time and avoid burnout, healthcare providers should focus on increased patient education. Informed patients will ask fewer and more pointed questions, and they’ll have a better idea of what’s ailing them, which will help to keep appointments short.

Lastly, relapses and readmissions should decline, helping to free up doctors’ schedules.

Higher quality of life

Lastly, patient education delivers results, and after becoming educated about their conditions and required treatments, patients generally have a higher quality of life. For example, Gallup polled a group of patients who received medical device implantation.

For the patients who “knew what to expect after surgery” (i.e. they received effective patient education), 72 percent were satisfied with their results, and only 8 percent reported problems after the device implantation. For the patients who didn’t know what to expect, only 39 percent were satisfied with their results, and 27 percent reported issues.

Informing a patient—or, in other words, educating them properly regarding their treatments or illnesses—helps to improve their overall quality of life.

As the nation’s healthcare reorients towards value-based care, patient education will become especially critical. When used correctly by providers, patient education can be a valuable tool, helping to increase efficiency and boost quality of care. Educating patients doesn’t have to take a great deal of additional time or effort.

A thoughtful, patient-centered strategy coupled with the application of innovative technologies can make a significant impact. Patient education, thanks to the push towards value-based care, is taking its place as a strategic imperative for healthcare providers throughout the nation.

Managing the surprisingly troublesome impact of real-time healthcare on clinical decision-making

We live in an age of instant gratification. From the texts we send friends and family to the orders we place on Amazon.com, we’ve come to expect immediate results: instant responses, next-day shipping, etc.

The idea of immediacy in healthcare communications is not new. In fact, in 2015, healthcare analyst Gartner outlined a vision for what it dubbed the “real-time health system”—a landscape where healthcare professionals will be constantly aware of what’s happening within their systems and with their patients.

As a person living in the digital age, you’ve probably experienced real-time awareness in other parts of your life: the repetitive dings of received text messages, the intermittent beeps of calendar alerts, the near-constant hum as your smartphone vibrates over and over to let you know your mother, children and cousins have uploaded photos to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, as I’m typing this piece, I’ve heard alerts for two personal text messages that I’ve yet to look at (the temptation is maddening), four work-related emails (that I did have to stop and look at), a notification that someone commented on a thread I replied to on Facebook and more.

While there’s definitely a benefit to each of us knowing what’s happening in our expanded universe in real time—and we can easily draw a direct line to the benefits that doctors, nurses and patients would experience if they could communicate instantaneously while coordinating care—the influx of information is simply overwhelming.

And when alarm fatigue sets in, important messages get missed, the communication cycle breaks down and what was once a valuable resource becomes a liability. Overwhelmed and inundated clinicians cannot optimally use their invaluable expertise to make effective clinical decisions that deliver great health outcomes.

Aggregating, analyzing and managing the distribution of clinical information

Managing the flow of data and alert fatigue is a real challenge that clinicians and the IT teams that support them need to understand. Clinicians need “just the facts, ma’am,” so to speak, and they need to know which set of facts pertain directly to them and the patients for whom they are caring. Receiving more than enough information is not always a good thing, especially when the situation calls for fast thinking and quick decisions.

Investments made in technologies implemented over the past several years have enabled healthcare as an industry to generate very large amounts of digitized clinical information. The challenge is to aggregate this patient data in real time to generate new knowledge about a patient and distribute it in a way that does not inundate the clinician recipients with unnecessary information. Physicians and nurses should receive information they need in order to act in that moment. Everything else is noise.


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Implementing communication-driven workflows

Once new knowledge is made available and deemed relevant to a given clinical situation, it’s important to enable workflows that drive this information to the right care team members, who can take action in that moment. Hospital-based communication workflows must encompass all modalities, adhere to strict security mandates and facilitate reliable exchanges among clinicians across boundaries (e.g., acute, pre-acute and post-acute care settings). This kind of clinical integration is the future of healthcare communications.

If clinicians are inundated with unnecessary information, messages and alerts, combined with a communication workflow that creates barriers to a) finding the right care team member to contact, b) finding the contact method that the clinician prefers and c) knowing whether the intended recipient received the message, the workflow is flawed and is inhibiting the decision-making that leads to higher standards of patient care.

Leveraging clinical expertise

The personal judgment of experienced healthcare professionals is irreplaceable in effective, real-time decision-making. Technological advances are no doubt improving healthcare, but human intuition can never be replaced by a new device or software. However, that intuition can be inhibited by technologies if they are not strategically implemented and managed. In this sense, real-time healthcare could, ironically, be eroding quality.

To truly leverage the hundreds of collective years of clinical expertise housed in the minds of your hospital’s medical staff—the expertise that yields great outcomes—you must remove the barriers to effective communication. Collecting patient data in real time is an important part of that. But analyzing and aggregating that data into digestible, valuable pieces of information that can be easily shared and collaborated on is the follow-through that is often overlooked.

The gravitation toward instant gratification isn’t going away. And it’s important to understand that the concept doesn’t apply simply to generating patient data as healthcare events are occurring, but also to the ability to extract the significant portions and begin collaborating with the broader care team to interpret the data and derive a plan to deliver high-value care.

What to expect from MACRA: The early years

MACRA legislation passed in April 2015. When the initial version of the rule came down, the industry collectively braced for declining revenues, the avalanche of administrative paperwork and the increase in overhead costs that would be required to comply.

When the final rule was issued in October 2016, the tempered requirements seemed to point toward fewer projected negative payment adjustments in 2019, the target year for MACRA’s first Quality Payment Program distributions, and the tension subsided a little.

Even with the new allowances in reporting and threshold scores, the MACRA structure makes clear that there’s an abundance of work to be done, especially around efforts to promote care coordination and communication.

Year 1: 2017-2018

Now that we’re already into 2017, the first official reporting year, tensions are rising again because, even though most physicians acknowledge they are going to participate, the majority have not yet plotted their course or defined a compliance strategy.

And if you’re in the group that hasn’t figured it all out yet, the good news is you’re not alone.

According to a recent poll conducted by The Health Management Academy, almost half of the physician and practice leaders who participated are not moving very quickly toward adopting value-based payment models. In fact, only 4% claimed to be moving “very quickly” while almost 40% admitted to moving “very slowly” toward value-based care.

Somewhat surprisingly, the same is true even for large hospital systems. These organizations are perceived to be the driving force, the ones moving the fastest toward the end goal of value-based care, and yet, per a similar poll, few of the large systems are moving very quickly.

Only 8% of large hospital systems polled are moving swiftly toward implementing value-based payment models. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

The Quality Payment Program, however, is going to be the catalyst for healthcare organizations, both large and small, moving more aggressively toward these models in the next couple of years.

The MACRA structure and how you fit in

By now, you know that reimbursements are going to be variable based on performance, even if you’re still practicing in a fee-for-service structure and, like most, have not yet begun practicing in the more advanced tracks.

There are four participation categories, which fall underneath two broad tracks—the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM) track.

The four MACRA Quality Payment Program participation categories. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

The two categories in the middle of the chart are bridge areas, and won’t apply to many providers right now, but they can be considered as stepping stones from MIPS to the Advanced APM track.

The MIPS track equates to fee‑for‑service, and most physicians will, at least initially, fall into this track. They’ll balance their steps toward embracing more downside risk by continuing to practice fee-for-service medicine, and so they must prepare to report performance metrics and have payments adjusted based on those metrics in 2019.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Advanced APM track. To reach “Advanced APM Qualifying Clinician” status, physicians must engage significantly in certain downside risk-bearing payment models. In this track, participating physicians will enjoy fewer reporting requirements and more financial incentives, while still being held accountable for delivering high-value care. The only way to sustain a profitable practice in this track is to eliminate wasteful workflows that result in inefficient and unreliable communication processes among all members of the broader care team, even if they are not directly affiliated with your practice.

Year 2: 2018-2019

In the first months of 2018, physicians practicing in the MIPS track—again, that will be most of you—will be required to report metrics in three performance categories based on at least 90 consecutive days of work. This should come as more good news, because if you haven’t started measuring yet, or you’re not impressed by your initial metrics, you still have time to pivot before the data is due in early 2018.

CMS will use that data to give each physician a composite score, which will determine the payment adjustment he or she receives in 2019.

The Quality Payment Program’s initially proposed rule was accompanied by disheartening projections in terms of payment adjustments, particularly for solo physicians and small practices. While the finalized October 2016-issued rule basically guaranteed that all physicians who submit any performance data will receive at least a neutral payment adjustment, physicians are still bracing themselves for less-than-average profit margins.

As MIPS is largely a budget-neutral program, less risk equals less reward. Since fewer physicians will be subject to negative payment adjustments in 2019 (see Image 3 below), fewer dollars will be available to distribute to those who perform well.

Only 20%—versus 87%—of physicians in smaller practices are projected to experience negative payment adjustments in 2019. – The Health Management Academy, 2017

Simply put, the best way to ensure your adjustment is as high as possible is to garner a high composite score.

Effectively coordinating care with your patients’ broader care teams as accurately and efficiently as possible to reduce waste and unnecessary overhead costs is a good first step toward achieving high scores in all four MIPS performance categories.

Back to the present

One of the goals of MACRA is to drive the costs out of treatment while still providing high-value care. Physicians will be in a much better position to deliver this dichotomy, and advance to a more rewarding reporting track, when the barriers to real-time care coordination have been broken down.

Seamless care team communication and collaboration among interdisciplinary, and often disparate, providers will be a foundation on which you can lay the groundwork for improved care coordination, which leads to less waste, improved efficiencies, and ultimately better outcomes, all of which underlie value-based care and the successful reduction of healthcare costs.

Source: “Making Sense of MACRA” webinar. The Health Management Academy and PerfectServe. March 2017. 

Watch the full webinar to learn even more about MACRA and how it applies to your practice.

The role of secure communications in your clinical integration strategy

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, 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.

How much is your answering service really costing you?

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.

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

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 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’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.

Safeguarding security: 4 tactics for secure clinical communication and collaboration

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.

3 “must-haves” for simplifying complex clinical communications

Part 3 of a 3-part series in conjunction with our nurse leadership webinar series.

Imagine a world where you launch the EMR, review a patient’s chart, and want to discuss it with the covering cardiologist that day. You click a link for the cardiologist within the EMR and it references that provider’s group workflow processes, reviews their schedules and monitors their momentary status to direct you to the correct provider. Then you type your message. The patient’s information is pulled from the EMR and is securely routed to the recipient based on their contact preference in that moment. It can happen – but this is not the norm in most healthcare facilities today.

Practicing medicine today is complex – clinicians need to consider an ever-changing landscape, federal and state regulations, not to mention the many different innovations designed to help streamline everything from care delivery to reimbursement. Adding to the complexity are the many different providers treating patients, working across various care settings with large care teams.

Given the vastness of these care networks, it can be daunting – albeit necessary – to coordinate care. One way to help connect clinicians in all care settings and improve care team collaboration is through a comprehensive communication solution.

It’s important to first understand why clinical communication is complex and why many of the technologies implemented today aren’t solving the issues clinicians are facing. Factors such as the patient’s reason for contact, the physician’s location, team coverage, degree of urgency and unassigned ER calls all impact the communication process.

Looking across varied care settings, people, processes and preferences also differ. Between inpatient and outpatient facilities, medical group practices and post-acute care, there are many variations in care team communication strategies and approaches that make it prone to gaps and breakdowns. In fact, one of the most frustrating parts of a nurse’s job is the daily battle to determine the correct covering provider.

In this complex environment with so many participants, the continuum of patient care demands that communication solutions span much further than the four walls of a hospital or practice. And as healthcare delivery models change, it’s imperative that care coordination, and the communication that drives it, be streamlined and efficient across all of these settings. When looking for a platform to simplify clinical communication, healthcare organizations should keep the following three “must have” capabilities in mind:

  • Span the entire care continuum: A comprehensive solution must address the needs of all care team members across all types of settings – from a single hospital to a multi-site system, as well as outpatient practices and care settings. They all have different demands and communication requirements. For example, larger practices and hospitals need advanced directory capabilities to bring the opportunity to coordinate care based on facility, group or ACOs, with the appropriate workflow processes built in. In addition, the solution should have the ability to generate real-time patient updates – such as when the patient presents to the emergency department, is discharged home, or when important results are available. This is essential to timely coordination of care. Finally, it’s imperative that the communication solution connect to the organization’s other HIT systems to maintain integration for alarms and alerts, such as if stroke team is activated. It’s critical that covering providers respond quickly and that a back-up process is in place.
  • Provide a standardized, yet flexible way to communicate: Clinicians should have flexible, yet standardized communication options that allow their messages to be routed appropriately and securely, and account for today’s technology. Gone are the days of referencing binders, faxed schedules or notes taped to the wall or desk. Once the communication process is initiated, the process should seamlessly connect you with the correct covering provider for the clinical situation at hand – whether through call, text or via a mobile app.
  • Address process complexities with intelligent routing: Schedules, workgroup rules, team mobilization requirements and escalation paths should all be configured so that you are connected to the right care team member with real-time accuracy. A solution with dynamic intelligent routing is able to deliver messages at the right time, to the right person in any given clinical situation. Clinicians should be able to customize based on their device and delivery preferences, and make changes based on their activity (e.g., what to do with a call while in the OR).

The goal is simple: Remove the variability, the hand offs and the touch points that introduce risk and opportunities for communication breakdowns. Initiate the communication in the manner you wish, and let the process connect you to the correct covering provider for your clinical situation at any moment in time.

While efficient clinical communication is a challenge, the right solution can lead to tremendous benefits for every care team member, as well as the organization. The solution must be comprehensive, providing standardization and the ability to streamline the communications process. By implementing technology that addresses these three areas, healthcare organizations will not only be able to improve clinical communication, but will ultimately improve the experience for patients, and the extended care team.


Interested in learning more? Read part 1 and part 2 of this series on nurse leadership in care team collaboration.

Building an effective care team collaboration strategy: 4 focal points

Part 2 of a 3-part series in conjunction with our nurse leadership webinar series.

The need to unify physicians, nurses and other care team members through effective communication at the point of care is growing in significance. According to a 2015 Gartner report, 80 percent of providers report deploying fragmented communication technologies, which results in degraded care team communication and collaboration.

Collaboration is both a process and an outcome. It affects the patient experience, outcomes and care occurring across a variety of settings in an increasingly complex and mobile environment.

To resolve the fragmented and non-secure communication encountered in healthcare, true care team collaboration is dependent on consolidating disparate technologies into a single solution capable of directly addressing the communication obstacles degrading patient care today.

To some, this may sound like an unachievable goal, but with a strategic plan focused in areas that facilitate workflow processes and communication leading to improved patient care, it is attainable.

You may wonder, where do I even begin? Many organizations, in response to specific challenges, have deployed single-point technologies that provide only incremental gains. True communication and collaboration requires a comprehensive strategy, and to begin you must carefully evaluate your entire communication landscape. You’ll need to assess your current technologies, HIPAA compliance plan, near miss or sentinel event occurrences, nursing time to reach providers and consult notifications procedures – all of which will highlight your communication strengths and weaknesses.

Developing a comprehensive care team collaboration strategy spans four major areas of consideration. Failure to address any one of these areas may leave you with an incomplete solution. Each organization is unique, certainly, but departments and organizations must work together to create an environment ripe for collaboration.

  • Clinical – Mobile technologies are becoming more prevalent in healthcare settings, thus the need to leverage these technologies to facilitate secure communication amongst the care team is becoming increasingly important. A clinical communications solution should enable communication-driven workflows to facilitate timely care team communication. The solution should facilitate direct conversations among nurses and physicians via the preferred mode of contact – be it a mobile phone, pager, email or office land line. By triaging incoming calls and applying personalized algorithms for call placement, care team members reach the correct physician without searching through call schedules.
  • Operational – Once your plan is in place, bringing it to life warrants consideration and considerable forethought. A well-defined adoption strategy will be key to a successful implementation. Clinical champions help drive decisions and engage end users. Leadership engagement is often the most essential driver of adoption of any initiative, plan or policy. You should also consider and plan around timelines, specific tasks and resource requirements.
  • Technical – To achieve success, understanding and addressing technical infrastructure is a must. The strength of your Wi-Fi and cellular networks should be evaluated. Does your organization have a device strategy or do you have a BYOD policy? Do you desire integration with clinical systems and is the solution you are considering interoperable?
  • Financial – In any financial consideration, ultimate ROI and total cost of ownership are needed to justify approaches. When you close communication gaps across the extended care team to facilitate patient care collaboration, you can potentially improve referral revenue, decrease readmissions and avoid penalty costs. The ability to do mobile charge capture at the bedside, and to quickly and fully document exam and procedure details at the point of care will result in revenue recognition and improved cash flow for physicians.

There is no short list of considerations when it comes to building an effective care team collaboration strategy. However, if you focus on these four areas, gain support of leadership and identify a solution that hits these marks, you will be well on your way to effectively addressing your communication and collaboration needs.


Interested in learning more? Read part 1 and part 3 of this series on nurse leadership in care team collaboration.