When a person undergoes surgery, it can be a stressful time not only for the patient, but for their family and friends, too. Patients’ loved ones want information from the operating room as soon as possible to know everything is okay. Waiting and wondering can be difficult.
“As healthcare providers, we strive to provide high-quality, safe patient care, but we also strive to provide the compassion every patient deserves,” said Dr. Mark Rosenbloom, vice president of clinical transformation at Health First, a health system based in Rockledge, Florida.
“As a patient-centric organization, part of our responsibility is to communicate with family members, giving them updates about their loved one’s condition and prognosis.”
Health First understands that a lack of timely or contextual information can cause worry and anxiety for friends and families. It decided that it needed a solution that would help improve communication with patients’ loved ones and elevate the overall healthcare experience.
Health First turned to clinical communication technology vendor Vocera. The vendor presented its product called Vocera Ease as a secure, cloud-based application that allows healthcare professionals to send real-time text, photo and video updates to family and friends of patients.
“The app can be downloaded by patients and their loved ones for free on their Apple or Android devices,” Rosenbloom explained. “Because downloading mobile apps is something nearly everyone has experience with these days, there is little to no learning curve to overcome. Following a simple registration process, a patient can select who will receive the Ease updates from their personal contact lists.”
“We also have survey data showing that 97% of app users strongly agreed that their experience demonstrated compassion and caring by the hospital.”
Dr. Mark Rosenbloom, Health First
A hospital staff member scans a patient’s medical bracelet to enable the sending of the one-way messages. Family members and friends can respond to the updates with emoji, giving immediate feedback and support to the care team. The messages keep loved ones updated on the patient’s progress, then disappear 60 seconds after being viewed.
“Even during the best of times, a hospital stay can cause anxiety for patients and their families,” Rosenbloom said. “Seeing a reassuring text or photo can give loved ones some peace of mind.”
On the healthcare communications technology front, vendors include Avaya, Halo, HipLink Software, Mobile Heartbeat, PatientSafe Solutions, PerfectServe, Spok, Telmediq and Vocera.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
“When the Vocera Ease app was first introduced to me and my team, we were excited by what it could do, and its potential for improving the patient and family experience,” Rosenbloom recalled. “We started out using the app in a pilot program in the operating rooms at our tertiary hospital. Because of the results there, we expanded it to the operating rooms and cardiac catheterization labs at all four of our Health First hospitals.”
Additionally, the neonatal intensive care unit at the tertiary hospital implemented the app. There has been a positive impact Ease updates have had on parents and grandparents of babies and grandchildren in the NICU, he observed. Another benefit is the customizable in-app survey that helps Health First track patient and family experiences in real time, he said.
“The scalability of the app is also valuable,” he said. “Prior to COVID-19 and implementing Ease, nurses typically called out to the waiting room with certain milestones – letting the family waiting know when surgery started, if there was a delay, when the patient was moved to the recovery area and so on. When surgery was over, the surgeon would go to the waiting room to speak with the family, who may have stepped away to go to the cafeteria or restroom.”
Relying on calls and visits to the waiting room was not reliable or scalable, he added. Some family members could not be at the hospital because they lived out of state or had to work, yet they wanted updates.
“So they would call the nurses’ station, or the onus to communicate with the patient’s entire network fell to one family member,” he said. “When COVID-19 hit, that one person was likely not allowed into the waiting room due to safety protocols.
“So, having a patient-centric app simplifies and streamlines communication to patients’ loved ones, takes the burden off of a single person to keep everyone updated, and can even help reduce calls to clinicians from worried friends and families.”
Health First implemented Vocera Ease at its four hospitals in 2020. Between April and December of that year, care teams sent more than 34,000 secure updates to patients’ families and friends across all 50 states.
“Each and every one of those messages were meaningful to patients and their loved ones,” Rosenbloom said. “We know this anecdotally because of patient comments to our staff, but we also have survey data showing that 97% of app users strongly agreed that their experience demonstrated compassion and caring by the hospital.”
That same percentage of respondents strongly agreed that their experience with Ease showed a commitment to transparency and better communication by the hospital. And 96% said that based on their experience with the app, they would recommend the hospital to others.
“There is another metric that emphasizes how impactful the updates are for families and friends,” Rosenbloom said. “During April and December 2020, our care team members received more than 46,000 prayer hands, thumbs-up and heart emojis in response to the messages they sent using the app.
“Our staff loves the feedback. It really helps build staff morale. The positive emojis also show them in real time how much the personalized messages mean to patients’ loved ones.”
Health First also has seen a significant improvement in its Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Survey (OAS CAHPS) scores at all of its hospitals.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“When evaluating a new patient-centric technology, the first thing to do is make sure it is HIPAA-compliant and meets high standards of security,” Rosenbloom advised. “It also is important to find a solution that is easy for patients, families and care teams to use.
“A new technology also should fit easily into your care teams’ existing workflows, and it’s always a good idea to engage frontline team members in the evaluation and selection process who will actually be using the solution.”
Healthcare technology that is promoted by vendors to improve or enhance the healthcare experience should do just that, he insisted.
“It should help strengthen human connections, increase patient and family satisfaction and loyalty, and create market differentiation,” he concluded. “Ask technology companies that you are evaluating for a list of customer references and call those references to get firsthand accounts of their clinician, patient and family experiences with the technology.”
Healthcare Everywhere, Every Day
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis a year ago, with its widespread quarantines and lockdowns, offered telemedicine its moment to shine after years of under-fulfilled promise. As states look toward a post-pandemic world it’s time to build on that promise.