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Smart communication with real-time situational awareness can help hospitals counter safety risks

By Benjamin Kanter

By now, it’s well known that communication breakdowns are behind many medical errors that result in serious harm or even fatality to patients. It is safe to assume, then, that improved communication among care team members can help address many of the top patient safety issues facing healthcare organizations today, such as those recently listed by ECRI Institute.

For example, diagnostic stewardship and test result management using EHRs was the number one issue on the Top Patient Safety Concerns for 2019 by ECRI. When abnormal test results are not properly communicated or are not followed up on, serious patient harm may ensue. Yet all too often, lab results languish in the hospital EHR, with clinicians unaware that they’ve been posted. Or perhaps the lab tech calls to report an abnormal result, yet can’t immediately reach the floor nurse on duty. In either scenario, therapy is inevitably delayed, while frustration and dissatisfaction increase.
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With 21st century technology, these potentially dangerous situations need not occur. An advanced communications platform can be used to send vital new information directly to a nurse or a care team, who can immediately evaluate the situation and shorten the time to act.

The use of antibiotics offers another instructive example. As communication platforms offer more systems integrations, clinicians can be instantly informed of the latest microbiology results, which is essential for knowing which antibiotic to prescribe, or if one should be prescribed at all. The ability to obtain this lab data in a timely manner, and make sure that the patient is receiving appropriately focused therapy, can help clinicians fight antimicrobial resistance, the number two issue on the ECRI list.

Two additional concerns on the ECRI list, detecting changes in a patient’s condition and early recognition of sepsis, represent different aspects of the same safety challenge: how to alert clinicians of important issues in time for them to act.

Sepsis can quickly deteriorate a patient’s condition, which, in turn, can spur an unanticipated ICU transfer. Patients who are moved to the ICU unexpectedly represent the highest acuity cohort in the hospital — with the most deaths and the highest costs. The ability to save them may come down to a nurse being able to recognize their deterioration within minutes, coupled with the ability to quickly communicate that information to others on the care team.
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