The Demise of the Pager and the Emergence of a New Collaboration Ecosystem in Healthcare

Terry Edwards, CEO, PerfectServe
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Terry Edwards, CEO, PerfectServe

Back in the 1950s, physicians were among the first professionals to widely adopt the use of pagers. At that time, the technology was the quickest and easiest way to notify a fellow clinician about updates to a patient. For the first time, doctors were notified about critical patient updates, requests for urgent consultations and other priority communications, no matter where they were. Although technology has evolved dramatically since then, the majority of healthcare organizations still use pagers on a regular basis. This is indicative of some major challenges in healthcare, both in terms of its meandering approach to technology adoption and its reliance on communication channels that are primarily one-directional.

Over the past several years, the healthcare landscape has begun a dramatic shift to prioritize value over volume and refocus care around the patient. In practical terms, this shift is moving the industry to making patient care more collaborative, where all players—including practice-based physicians, nurses, specialists, home care providers and more—coordinate and collaborate to give patients the best quality care. And, they are doing so more efficiently.

Coordinating all of these players requires more than an aging and outdated one-directional tool like the pager; instead, the complex web of healthcare needs a unified solution that gives all doctors, nurses and other care team members the tools they need to get the right information to the right person, at the right time, in the right way.

Finding a Way to Collaborate in a World of Data Breaches

In other industries, it’s easier for organizations and companies to interact and collaborate. For example, a group of remote and office-based employees in a corporate setting can easily fire up a WebEx session, open an account on Dropbox or use Slack to share ideas in real time. By controlling access, setting up usernames and a required password, companies can be realistically confident that the information is secure.

“Over the past several years, the healthcare landscape has begun a dramatic shift to prioritize value over volume and refocus care around the patient.”

It’s not quite so simple in healthcare. HIPAA, which governs the privacy of patient health information, sets strict requirements that govern how organizations can store and share patient protected health information (PHI). Security is also a concern—for good reason. Last year alone there were more than 720 data breaches to healthcare organizations, which exposed nearly 193 million personal records. Ransomware attacks have also surged, sparking a heightened focus on security.

These security threatsand the resulting impact on a hospital’s financial stability and reputation make it difficult for hospitals and healthcare practices adopt consumer technologies. Competing budget priorities can make other technology investments a challenge. However, market forces, like new care delivery models and the increase in focus on quality and operational efficiency, are driving the demand for healthcare organizations to address the reality and provide secure communications channels for their clinicians.

The Problem with One Tool for Every Job

Digital natives entering the healthcare industry expect the same functionality in their professional life as in their personal life. Instead of relying on the trusty old pager, doctors and nurses have begun to communicate via non-secure SMS text. In an attempt to stop non-compliant behavior, many hospital and health systems have turned to secure text messaging applications to give clinicians the ability to send and receive information about patient care using their smartphones. While these kinds of tools have given clinicians the ability to communicate securely, in some respects it’s like giving a doctor just a stethoscope when what is really needed is a range of tools, like an otoscope, a scalpel anda CT. Having just one tool isn’t enough when it comes to delivering patient care, and the same goes for care team communication and collaboration.

Physicians, nurses and other care team members need to send and receive multiple types of communications daily. For example:

Brief, non-urgent, one-way updates—These types of communication provide updates on patients that a physician doesn’t need to respond to right away, but are important for them to know, like “Patient A is out of surgery,” or “Lab results for Patient B are available.”

Brief, two-way updates—Similarly, there are times when a short back and forth is needed, such as scheduling a patient visit or advising on a recommended dosage.

Urgent updates—There are often critical updates that need to get to doctors immediately, such as “Patient D is coding. We need you now.”

Complex exchanges—Often, physicians need to consult one another on treatment recommendations. These exchanges are complex, and require some back and forth communication where they can ask follow up questions.

With the nuances in healthcare communications, it is impossible for secure text messaging applications alone to solve the problem.

Beyond the Text

Clinicians and healthcare leaders are beginning to see that while texting is an important tool, they need a better way to collaborate with one another. So far, the healthcare industry has tried to attack these challenges piecemeal, providing clinicians with a range of tools—like secure texting apps, messaging applications within the electronic health record, call answering services, and so on. Although well intentioned the amalgamation of often-siloed tools only leads to heightened fragmentation of the patient care team. Information gets lost in the gaps, making it difficult to not only keep patient health information secure, but also to coordinate patient care.

At HIMSS 2016 (a leading healthcare IT conference), many prominent healthcare providers spoke about the need for a unified platform that enables themto have access to the same patient records, align on treatment and share information across a multitude of healthcare technologies. Physicians need a unified solution that allows them to communicate naturally, through the right method and time for that particular message.

By addressing the need for solutions that match clinician workflow, healthcare leaders will enable doctors, nurses and other members of the care teamto coordinate with each other more easily and efficiently—and ultimately, improve the way we deliver patient care.

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