Clinical communication ringing loud and clear

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Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., has a new capability to communicate. As is the case in many hospitals acrosss the U.S., the provider’s nurses were carrying around multiple pagers for tracking patients and monitoring various conditions, as well as mobile phones. These devices, designed to improve patient care, were weighing them down.

Huntington decided to attack the problem by integrating applications on a smartphone. In 2009, the 600-bed hospital partnered with mobile communications company Voalté to put Voice-over-IP phone, patient tracking and code-blue paging, onto a single device for clinical nurses at the bedside.

In a pilot program using Voalté One technology, Huntington consolidated these functions onto one clinical mobile application on iPhones used by clinical nurses on the hospital’s medical/surgical unit. Training was easy because most staff already knew how to text and were familiar with iPhones or other smart phones, said Ron Rutherford, RN, director of informatics at Huntington, in a CMIO interview .

“The staff was relieved to be ‘relieved’ of carrying extra devices and seemed to treat the iPhones with more care and respect than the old plastic VoIP phones,” said Rutherford. “It’s a modern, forward-thinking device” that solves a historical problem: “nurses being bogged down with devices.”

Users key into the application with their username and password, and Voalté One saves information pertaining to the user. The 3GS iPhones use the iOS 4 operating system. Clinicians can access other applications, like a medication calculator, found on the iTunes App Store, and needn’t log out of one app to use another. This has streamlined communications and produced faster response times, because nurses “just text each other if they need to communicate,” he said.

Using the system, nurses at Huntington can make, receive or forward calls and receive alerts when a patient requires urgent care.

Most of the nurses participating in the pilot program already knew how to text, making a single 30-minute training session all that most users need, according to Rutherford.

The road wasn’t entirely smooth, however: The device shook up Huntington’s network environment in the beginning of the pilot program because the iPhones and Huntington’s IV smart pumps were competing for bandwidth on the same network server. This resulted in some dropped calls, but after switching from 3G to 3GS iPhones and upgrading to iOS 4, the number of dropped calls is nearly zero, he said.

Huntington plans to take the integration housewide in 2011, and Rutherford wants to bring more data into the devices, such as Huntington’s teletracking system, he said.