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Using technology to make patient care safe

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Using technology to make patient care safe

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A recent issue of Healthcare Informatics provides hope that technological advances can improve patient safety. One of the most significant barriers to care delivery is communication. Nurses, says Turisco, are often placed in the middle of the communication loop, where they constantly receive and place calls to physicians, pharmacy and lab, all while trying to tend to patients. Fran Turisco is research principal in the Waltham, Mass.-based Emerging Practices Healthcare Group of CSC (Falls Church, Va.) “So the issue is how you cut out some of the middle men in these communication loops,” she says. “And how do you shorten the time frame between when a nurse needs to talk to someone and when she actually gets to talk to that person, then either make a care decision or figure out what needs to get done next.” Nurses act as the hub in the wheel, and communicate with every other department in a healthcare facility. This communication is vital but time-consuming.

With a hands-free voice activated badge in use at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, leadership addressed the problem by rolling out hands-free communication systems from San Jose, Calif.-based Vocera in the NICU. The technology enabled clinicians to call for assistance or answer pages by using a voice recognition button. With the badges, which run on the hospital’s wireless platform, nurses can call for help or communicate with colleagues across departments. This innovation addresses the ongoing issue of placing calls to others, and being interrupted when the call is returned.

Bar-code technology is gaining ground as a way to reduce medication errors. The medication is scanned at the bedside and verified as being correct for the patient, whose arm band is also scanned. The system catches errors at the point of administration, the last step before the medication enters the patient.

Another common theme in patient safety is workflow issues. A number of organizations are addressing the problem by deploying patient flow systems to provide nurses with improved visibility of both bed availability and patient status. With these solutions, instead of making several calls and chasing down charts, nurses can look at a screen to find out what rooms are available, how long patients have been waiting to see a physician, and when patients need to be turned.

When I was a nursing quality assurance coordinator, we tackled the seemingly simple issue of getting beds ready after a discharge. The backup of patients in emergency departments, medical surgical units, and recovery rooms waiting for a bed has important quality of care issues. One of the biggest selling points for patient flow systems, according to Turisco, is the ease of use factor. “It’s one of these technologies that you almost think is too good to be true because it’s not that hard to install. You can configure it in a short period of time to do exactly what you want.”

Here are the take home messages:

  1. The proliferation of wireless technologies in the hospital setting has significantly impacted the way nurses deliver care.
  2. The primary goals chief information officers are looking to achieve in implementing wireless technologies are to improve communication, workflow efficiency and patient safety.
  3. Organizations that have successfully implemented wireless technologies have had nursing leaders involved in every key step of the process.

Read more about 10 common errors and what is being done to make patient care safer here.

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