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Clinical communication technology is the key to overcoming lengthy wait times and overcrowding in emergency departments


Bottlenecks in care have serious implications for hospital operations. Here’s one way to relieve the pressure.

Clinical communication technology is the key to overcoming lengthy wait times and overcrowding in emergency departments

Will O'Connor, MD

Overcrowding has historically been an issue for hospitals and patients, but rising wait times in emergency departments (EDs) have hit especially hard amid this winter’s “tripledemic”: the perfect storm of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu. Researchers have reported that many patients wait an average of between 1 1/2 hours to more than 3 1/2 hours in dangerously crowded emergency rooms before receiving care. This backlog causes frustration for patients and caregivers who have difficulty juggling increasing workloads due to overcrowding.

When EDs experience overcrowding, there isn’t enough room to immediately meet the needs of patients who require emergency care. This leads to bottlenecks, which can have serious implications for hospital operations. Though telemedicine has been the means to correct some of the pressures, this year’s tripledemic has proved that it’s not a cure-all.

Overcoming the obstacles

Clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) technology can provide hospitals with the necessary tools to create more efficient ED workflows, drastically improving patient experiences and outcomes. This cloud-based technology enables quick and effortless communication between providers, so they don’t have to wait for a call back or endure long delays in the delivery of care. With real-time messaging and automated workflows, care teams are able to quickly respond to urgent needs, leading to faster diagnosis times and reduced ED crowding. Furthermore, clinical communication solutions are designed with features that help staff collaborate easily and securely across various departments – allowing them to streamline processes, improve patient safety, and effectively manage workloads.

CC&C technology is a comprehensive solution that has the potential to transform EDs. This technology integrates across the entire health care system, connecting the network of caregivers involved in patient care. EDs can leverage a CC&C platform’s purpose-built feature, such as scheduling and role/team integrations, to determine on-call availability for patient treatment. With this insight, care teams can securely collaborate in real-time, streamlining workflows and driving improved patient outcomes. This allows health care professionals to focus their efforts on helping those who need it most while effectively managing patient flow.

Communication gaps also impact health care provider handoffs throughout a patient’s hospital experience, including efficiently moving a patient from the ED to the inpatient unit. Figuring out where to send patients can result in “phone tag” between hospital personnel and delays in placing the patient in a room. Advanced communication tools allow users to collaborate and mobilize teams quickly when needed. Patient data and clinical information are sent via secure group messaging for better coordination during discharge and transfer. Clinicians can also notify all departments and team members involved in a patient’s transfer with a single message. This improved communication reaps many benefits, including quicker transfers between departments, lowered ED waiting room time, improved ED and hospital throughput, as well as enhanced patient experience and happier clinicians.

Everyday examples

There are countless potential scenarios in which this technology can prove exceedingly beneficial. For example, when a person arrives at an ED having a stroke, each hour in which treatment fails, the brain loses as many neurons as it does in almost 3.6 years of normal aging. The faster a person experiencing a stroke can be seen – especially an ischemic stroke, which means there’s a blockage – the faster the blockage can be removed to restore blood flow and brain function. While a stroke is one of the most severe conditions, time is always of the essence in an ED. Utilizing clinical communication solutions in time-sensitive medical emergencies gives patients the highest chance for the best possible health outcomes.

Even in serious situations, the necessary treatment for a stroke patient can be delayed. After the patient is admitted, there are numerous steps with several people involved – as many as eight to 12 people by the time transport, pharmacy, and other hospital staff are included. Coordination between these people is challenging and time-consuming without an advanced CC&C platform.

When a hospital puts advanced communication technology in place – one in which everyone is aware of the attending physician, the stroke nurse, the radiologist, the transporter, and all other essential parties based on their schedule – staff can quickly provide vital information to the proper care provider at the right time. Ultimately, instead of taking an hour from door to treatment, that time can be cut in half.

Reducing emergency department wait times is critical for patient safety and satisfaction. Innovative CC&C technology enables hospitals and health care providers to improve their processes and maximize efficiency, leading to shorter wait times and improved outcomes. Moreover, the technology can reduce overcrowding in the ED, freeing up more time for clinicians to provide better care, increasing patient satisfaction and improving overall hospital operations.

The workflows

Clinical communication technology significantly enhances the efficiency of ED workflows and facilitates seamless team collaboration. The technology is accessible via Apple iOS, Android, and desktop applications, allowing for easy and widespread use. Additionally, it allows communication with individuals who are not on the app, ensuring that all relevant parties are informed and connected. This enhances the network effect, making the system more valuable to its users as more individuals are connected. As a result, patient care is faster and more efficient.

While such workflows are commonplace across health care systems, they are proving to be particularly invaluable to EDs. A suite of CC&C tools enables care teams to communicate in real-time and automate workflows to help reduce wait times and overcrowding, thereby leading to better patient experiences, improved outcomes, and more effective hospital operations.

Will O’Connor, MD, is TigerConnect’s chief medical information officer. He’s an industry-known physician executive with more than 20 years of health care experience focused on operations, strategic planning, consulting, client delivery, and thought leadership across the health care industry. As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. O’Connor has significant provider experience as well as deep commercial experience, having worked for multiple companies, including McKesson, Allscripts/Eclipsys, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He specializes in assisting large health systems, academic medical centers, community hospitals, and payers leverage health care information technology and operational improvements to advance their clinical and financial outcomes. Additional experience includes EHR and HIE implementations, clinical communication and collaboration, clinician adoption, analytics, clinical decision support, provider operational analysis, and clinical process redesign.

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