Communication technology vital to boosting patient experience

Technology's role in helping hospitals to create positive patient experiences often boils down to one core truth: communication is key.

With that in mind, officials at both Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers have been able to boost patient satisfaction by improving communications processes for both providers and patients.

At Ohio State--a 976-bed academic medical center in Columbus, Ohio--CIO Phyllis Teater (right) and her team have based a bulk of the facility's latest IT efforts on the former.

"We believe that the technologies that have had the most impact in improving patient satisfaction are those related to providing better communication for the caregivers," Teater recently told FierceHealthIT. "Our integrated electronic health record system supports all care from the outpatients to the emergency department to the inpatient environment; all caregivers are documenting in the same system."

In that way, Teater said, all providers have a full picture of a patient's care history at all times.

At the University of Michigan (pictured)--a three-hospital system that boasts 120 outpatient clinics and 40 health centers--its Secondary Alert Notification System (SANS) passes along alarms generated by patient monitors and nurse call systems to caregivers to wireless phones and pagers. The system, according to IT Executive Director Marilyn Lanzon, also processes all nurse call alerts such as Code Blue, staff assist, and patient calls from pillow speakers.

"As a complete, closed-loop alarm management platform, SANS manages alarm fatigue by providing clinicians with data that gives them insight into their unit's patient populations," Lanzon told FierceHealthIT. "This data is also used to adjust the alarm escalation rules and other event attributes, reducing false alarms and noise in the patient environment."

Lanzon said that SANS has been credited as a key contributor to a "dramatic increase in patient satisfaction," particularly in relation to nurse responsiveness.

Improving patient communications efforts at U-M, according to Lanzon, has centered on an interactive care system that delivers hospital services, education and entertainment via flat panel screens controlled by the aforementioned pillow speaker or a wireless keyboard. The system, she said, has been rolled out at the system's 348-bed, co-located C.S. Mott Children's and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospitals in Ann Arbor.

At Ohio State, a similar system will be rolled out in conjunction with an expansion project expected to be completed by December 2014; the expansion will add a new cancer and critical care tower with 348 beds, while also growing the emergency department by roughly 17,000 square feet.

"This is the area where we expect to pilot more of a 'real' system for the patients where they will be interacting directly with technology," Teater said. "Our system will provide clinical interactions such as the ability for patients to view their care teams and test results, and to send non-urgent messages to those care teams.

The system, Teater added, also will include tools enabling patients to learn more about their specific conditions, and to order concierge services.

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