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The time is now: Leveraging mobile technology to create systems of care that scale

Networked communications unite the care team on a single, secure communication channel, elevating the timeliness and quality of care


Content provided by Pulsara

By Cynthia Bradford Lencioni, EVP Global Business & COO – Pulsara

Imagine that you are a paramedic in a rural region who has been summoned by 911 dispatch to the scene of a home accident. All you know is that there is a patient with suspected burns who is counting on you to save his life. When you arrive on scene, you quickly determine that your patient is a young child, about eight years of age, with third-degree burns on at least 20% of his body, including his upper torso and head. He is deteriorating rapidly into shock. Given the extent of his injuries, you realize that per protocol, he needs immediate transport to a burn center. As your partner begins to start an IV, you radio the regional command center to provide the patient’s status and urgently request critical-care transport via air ambulance. Precious seconds turn into minutes as you stand by waiting for a reply from the command center with an ETA for the air ambulance team...

Clear communication pathways among the medical team is critical to providing quality care.
Clear communication pathways among the medical team is critical to providing quality care. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the command center for your region telephones the neighboring region’s command center to request the transport because unfortunately, your region lacks its own helicopter. The command center for the neighboring region creates a new patient case in their CAD system and eventually dispatches the helicopter to you. You are unaware of the dispatch, however, until they make another phone call to let your command center know that the helicopter has been dispatched and your command center radios you to pass the information along...

At the same time, your region’s command center makes a telephone call to the burn center in yet another region to provide all this information yet again. Lacking another way to communicate in real time, the air ambulance team must make another radio report to the burn center to establish communication once they initiate patient care and transport. Even after the young patient arrives at the burn center, additional phone calls and radio reports among the multiple organizations and teams involved in the care are needed to close the communication channels – from ambulance to command center, from command center to command center, command center to air ambulance, command center to burn center and air ambulance to burn center. And yet, despite the urgency in an emergency scenario such as this, none of these communication pathways are open to everyone on the care team, let alone open at the same time as you have been providing care. 

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As you drive back to your station, you think about your patient. You wonder whether he made it to the burn center and what his status is. But that would be yet another phone call or two, and you wish there were a better way for everyone to be on the same page as you prepare for your next run…

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This scenario is, unfortunately, all too familiar to those who provide prehospital critical care. Hospital providers can also identify with it. From the missed radio report, to the page sent to the wrong team member, to the time spent not knowing whether the cath lab is ready for your patient, most hospitals’ disjointed communication approaches contribute to fragmentation, delays and breakdowns.

The patching together of traditional, fragmented healthcare communication channels that open and close during a patient event – radios, telephones, pagers, faxes, emails – causes inevitable delays that negatively impact patient care. Look at how many unconnected communication channels there are for a single patient event, much like the one discussed above.

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This is a highly inefficient telephone/radio game to play when the stakes could not be any higher. One patient transfer alone can involve numerous – and often redundant – telephone calls, radio reports and other communications, creating a repetitive, error-prone process where precious time is lost at a time when your most critically ill patients need it the most.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to create a shared consciousness or unity of effort for critical patient events using traditional communication channels. It is also challenging for care providers to create an accurate clinical picture via radio or telephone – when a photograph of an injury is worth a thousand words.

As an industry, we focus on uniting data – but often not in real time with patients’ continuity of care, resulting in fragmented communications that fail to fully leverage modern technology when every second counts. We should be focusing on the team members, logistics and the right communication methods that will unite the care teams around the patient’s needs, accelerating lifesaving care.

The solution to this problem is networked communication, hosted on interconnected mobile and online technologies. This type of system can power a rapid, multi-directional flow of information among many-to-many relationships and unite the care team on a single, secure communication channel. Each channel is created specifically for each patient event, enabling team members to dynamically build the care team and even add other teams, organizations or individuals on the fly.

Sometimes, changing circumstances mean that additional team members, such as a specialist physician or mental health provider, need to be added to the patient channel for a consult or collaboration. The result is a single source of truth for all communication related to the case. The team then has a shared consciousness of the situation through the exchange of synchronous and asynchronous information: data, group messaging, live and recorded audio and video, images, exchange of facility capacity and readiness status, push notifications to all team members, alert acknowledgments and transport ETA based on GPS. Nothing less than these capabilities will be able to create situational awareness and shared consciousness for the entire care team.

In addition, the same networked communication will ensure that all care team members have shared consciousness around the patient's outcome after the event, creating the ability to inform all care teams in real time. It also provides the necessary data for quality improvement and quality assurance review.

In order to ensure the highest quality of patient care in the shortest amount of time, it’s imperative to unite care teams across a system of care. A flexible communication and telehealth platform is unsurpassed in facilitating this level of complex care coordination across organizations and geographies.

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By uniting care teams for every patient event, networked communication enables systems of care that scale across time and geography. Whether it’s used for a patient case requiring a simple, one-to-one interaction, or for a multi-region event involving multiple organizations and one-to-many or many-to-many communication, a dynamic, interconnected communication system scales to meet the specific needs of the situation. Used consistently for local, regional and national stress events, this type of system is much more effective than traditional communication methods. Such a system’s ability to bridge communication and coordination across all organizations participating in patient events – especially when surge events strain the system’s capacity – reveals the platform’s power, flexibility and scalability.

Siloed teams and linear communication foster missed information and lead to medical errors, and the issue is not unique to the United States, or to any other state, country or region. The communication crisis in healthcare is a global issue where technology has been a limiting factor until recently. More precisely, the absence of an efficient, unified communication system has hamstrung clinical teams in even the most high-stakes and critical moments of providing care.

Today, though, leading healthcare systems are creating improved risk and safety profiles by eliminating antiquated, non-integrated communication technologies. Instead of one-to-one, open and closed communication with radios, telephones and pagers, networked mobile communication opens the door to one-to-many and many-to-many communications within patient channels. These channels can be created and used simultaneously and for the duration of the patient event. And in connecting previously siloed teams and organizations in real time, networked communication supports faster, better coordination and the otherwise more difficult load balancing of available healthcare, transportation and other emergency resources across Public Safety, Ambulance, Hospital and Affiliated Healthcare teams within the system. Time to treatment can be optimized and communication errors minimized, with the attendant quality and cost improvements that are demonstrated in the literature. 

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Systems of care that scale work for any patient method of arrival to the A&E (ambulance, walk-in, or inpatient) and for all time-sensitive emergencies. Any organization, team or individual can participate in a patient channel for communication that will enhance intra- and inter-organizational team communications. It is the resultant network, combined with the flexibility of the system, that allows the network to scale beyond routine interactions to enable all the interactions and communication needed during a stress event. Enhanced communication has been proven to improve the time to assessment, transport and treatment for critically ill patients.

We can do more to help our healthcare providers to better prepare for the patient’s arrival by improving their visibility into the patient’s condition in the field. We can do more to facilitate the ability of facility staff and remote providers to collaborate on decisions about what care is needed and to determine whether and to which facility a patient’s transfer is most appropriate. We can do more to help healthcare teams to reduce medical errors and delays by reducing miscommunication. We can do more to provide opportunities for feedback that improve care.

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. . . Although you won’t learn of it, you would have wanted to know that your young burn patient has been rather lucky. Despite the many communication handoffs and care-coordination challenges experienced in your siloed system during his care, he has arrived at the burn center alive, and they have been able to make a difference in his outcome. He will forever remember the man in the uniform with the radio who saved his life.

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Pulsara

The time is now for change in system planning, performance and delivery to take a new view of leveraging mobile communications technology to unite distributed healthcare teams. In doing so, we will elevate the timeliness and quality of care for those in most desperate need of the best coordinated care, when seconds count. Higher quality at a lower cost will undoubtedly bring more value to any healthcare system that endeavors to make the best use of limited resources and achieve the Quadruple Aim. The time is now.

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