Nov 22 2021

How Clinical Collaboration Has Evolved Over the Years and Why It’s Important Now

From pagers to mobile devices, real-time communication between clinicians is key to exchanging vital health information.

Communication allows information to be shared between people. This is especially important in healthcare where that information could mean the difference between life and death.

Technology such as telephones and public address systems were used to communicate vital information to clinicians before the advent of pagers in the 1950s made immediate communication possible. Hospitals use simulcast networks to broadcast messages to modern pagers, which can be more reliable than cellular networks and reach clinicians even if they’re located in a cellular dead zone within a hospital. However, typical pagers allow only one-way communication and short messages. Clinicians must find a phone to respond, and that’s not always straightforward or efficient.  

A nurse might receive a page with a number, call that number back for more information, and be unable to receive the necessary information quickly if the person they need to speak with is no longer at the desk.

Gaps in the flow of communication can cost valuable time and make clinician workflows inefficient. Clinical communication and collaboration tools on mobile devices can make it easier to reach the right person when needed and ensure that a message is received by someone who can act upon it, supporting the flow of vital information. This ultimately benefits patients whose care may rely on quick communication between clinicians.

Click the banner below for CDW resources to dig deeper into clinical collaboration strategies.

What Are Clinical Communication and Collaboration Tools?

“Mobility is more important than ever in clinical settings. Hospital systems are actively looking to replace single-purpose devices such as pagers with modern communication methods like secure messaging that provides patient context,” say Mike Goad, senior healthcare mobility solution architect at CDW•G, and Remy Morgan, senior inside solution architect with CDW’s mobility practice, in a CDW blog. “Workers in healthcare rely on smartphones and tablets to exchange information and complete work tasks on the go — an especially important consideration for workers who operate throughout an entire floor, building or even campus.”

Functionalities such as role-based calling, dynamic directory and active response make clinician workflows more efficient. Role-based calling allows a clinician to look at a patient’s information in the CC&C platform to find the associated care team, which can be searched via roles. Dynamic directory provides an escalation path to ensure that a clinician’s message receives a response, while active response enables the creation of rapid response groups. The platform can send an alert directly to members of the group, eliminating the need for noisy overhead paging.

Many CC&C platforms include additional capabilities, such as integrated electronic health records and barcode medication administration.

LEARN MORE: Find out 3 tips to integrate EHRs with CC&C tools.

How CC&C Tools Are Transforming Healthcare Workflows

“Before, it took a lot of time to reach providers and sometimes respiratory therapists because we just used the paging system,” says Kassaundra McKnight-Young, lead clinical informaticist at University Health (formerly Truman Medical Centers). “They would have to stop, find a phone and call back. Then, if you’re not there, that’s usually it. ‘Who paged red team? Who paged the respiratory therapist?’ I have to take care of my patients, so I’ve left. They don't know who paged who, when they paged them or why they paged them. So, we have to start that process all over again. Real-time communication, instant communication, improved response time and improved call-in time is what has been beneficial.”

University Health paired Zebra TechnologiesTC51-HC mobile computers with Cerner’s Camera Capture, enabling clinicians to securely text high-quality medical images. The hospital system also uses Cerner Patient Observer, enabling immediate communication between the patient and the correct caregiver, depending upon the patient’s needs.

“If they just need water, a care tech can get that for them and it will route to the care tech that’s taking care of them, versus if they need pain medication, it can route to the nurse that’s taking care of them,” says McKnight-Young.

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Being able to communicate in real time with the care staff, specialists or the pharmacy is invaluable, she adds, especially in situations where a patient may be deteriorating or in need of quick intervention.

“I remember taking care of a patient and his QTc values were going crazy. I had just gotten on the floor and taken over the patient. I immediately did an EKG, took a picture, sent it to the physician and said, ‘Hey, the QTc alarms are going off. This is the EKG. What do you think?’ And he told me that we were doing everything we should, the actual EKG showed that his QTc was not as high as the alarms were indicating, and that we were okay. That really eased me as well as the patient I was taking care of,” says McKnight-Young.

The Future of Clinical Communication and Collaboration

The ongoing nursing shortage is a major concern for healthcare organizations throughout the U.S., but technology and improved interoperability can help alleviate some of the burden by making workflows more efficient.

“I’m looking forward to a day where we can really sync everything to one place. Even as a nurse, I’m looking forward to a time when I can do everything I can with my communication tool. We’re almost there, and I really think that is our future,” says McKnight-Young. “Nurses really want to be at the bedside taking care of patients, and this type of communication tool allows us to do that with all the other additional functionality that it has, such as patient scanning, med administration, blood transfusion and specimen collection. But I still think there’s more that we can do.”

READ MORE: Learn best practices for clinical communication and collaboration device management.

Illustration by Traci Daberko