UC in Healthcare: Optimizing your Clinical Alarm Systems

nec-healthcare-uc-cno3.jpgOverhead pages, telephones ringing, and ongoing conversations between caregivers can be a source of discomfort for patients, and, as noted by TheHospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), noise levels are a significant factor in determining overall patient satisfaction with their care. Noise distractions can also interfere with the concentration of caregivers and increase the potential for errors when providing care. In addition, HCAHPS also notes that delays in staff response to patient call bells were frequently cited as a source of patient concern. This poses a significant problem because in many hospitals call bell systems are the chief mode of communication from patient to nurse or other caregiver. With a call bell system, when the patient rings the call bell, a message is sent to a central station for processing. Sounds simple, but the caveat is that the caregiver must then be located by overhead page or pager-type communication device. In either instance no specific information is presented to the nurse about the nature of the call, forcing the caregiver to return to the bedside to determine the patient needs before acting upon it. How much more efficient would this process be if the patient’s specific request could be given to the nurse directly rather than first traveling through a general overhead alert system?

When a healthcare organization utilizes Unified Communications (UC), alerts, messages, and other time-sensitive notifications can be delivered directly to a clinician’s smart-device. Perhaps the most valuable asset preserved through UC implementation is time. The right Unified Communications vendors can add additional functionality in a healthcare setting to leverage the flexibility, mobility, and capability of smartphone technology to better enable caregivers to address noise and communication issues faces within a hospital. According to HIMSS Analytics, a caregiver can save up to two hours of overtime per shift through better, more efficient communication. Those two hours are valuable, and can, in turn, be used toward better, more focused patient care, charting and documentation.
However ironic it may seem, alarm systems have actually caused much harm in the clinical setting. One of the main challenges in dealing with alarm systems is differentiating between what is “noise” and what is an actual signal. Where the alarm systems are intended to alert the clinician on the patient’s condition, they have actually steered away from patient protection. Most notably has been the shocking and startling effect of alarm systems, or the fact that they have become a huge nuisance. Alarm system related hazards are ranked number one on theECRI Institute 2012 Top 10 Technology Hazards. Multiple alarm systems with different interfaces present in many healthcare settings in part contribute to this problem, leading to chaos, confusion, and anxiety.
An overwhelming result of alarm system related hazards is alarm fatigue. Clinical alarm fatigue tops the list of concerns for nurses in their clinical workflow processes, and according to the AAMI (Advancing Safety in Medical Technology) 2011 Clinical Alarms Summit, alarm fatigue results from “technology driving processes rather than processes driving technology”. A few causes of alarm fatigue are:

    • Clinicians being inundated with hundreds of alarm conditions per patient per day
    • Patient anxiety due to the multiple alarm signals
    • Unreliable alarm systems
    • Compromise of life-threatening situations due to confusion of alarm systems

One way to help optimize your alarm systems is by implementing technology such as Clinical Workforce Solutions. A few other ways to optimize those systems is through clinical testing and data analysis. Keep patient safety as your foremost priority and shape implementations and alarm regulations around what’s best for the patient. Lastly, regularly update alarm system policies and configurations to minimize room for error.
Ultimately, reducing overhead noise eliminates disruptive noises in the healing environment, decreases alarm fatigue, reduces the length of time a patient stays, and improves the quality of care.  The need for mobility and access to data for point-of-care services is critical, as improved communication workflows result in greater overall efficiency, reduced costs and increased staff confidence. A quieter and more restful hospital environment is sure to drive higher patient satisfaction scores. Additionally, ensuring the security your Unified Communications vendor provides meets HIPPA standards so that you are able to communicate confidential information on a privately owned smart device is key.  Click below to learn more ways you can increase your patient satisfaction scores and provide the best care possible with NEC’s Clinical Workforce Solutions.