Facilitating Better Communications Among Clinicians

Much of the chatter coming out of HIMSS13 hinges on the concept of integration. Specifically, this idea that integrating physicians with other community care givers will naturally foster a better, less expensive quality of care. It’s an idea whose time has come. So, what are healthcare CIOs doing to facilitate better communications among clinicians working inside and outside the hospital? The short answer: not much.

Sure, the innovative ones are trying. But as a group, most are still thinking in terms of individual activities performed by individual actors in individual silos. We’re seeing push-back around data sharing. We even have people pronouncing the HIEs dead, declaring that data exchange is too hard, too complex. Yet this vital communication at the point of care is too useful and too necessary to disregard.

With HIE technology becoming dated and outpaced by newer technologies – and the added challenge that many EMRs certified as interoperable don’t really interoperate – one approach being advocated by health IT experts is the use of mobile tools for real-time voice and video communication.

Collaboration using video conferencing and real-time streaming medical data makes tremendous sense at the point of care. But it’s a hard leap for many healthcare CIOs, a destination they’re striving for but haven’t yet reached.

Atlantic Health System’s Linda Reed, RN, MBA, FCHIME, vice president and CIO, and president of her regional HIE, is among those CIOs tasked with balancing physician demands for rapid communications inside and outside the hospital against her organization’s need to maintain security and compliance.

Right now, the Morristown, N.J.-based health system, which has 2,852 physicians and 1,310 licensed beds spanning three locations, limits the use of real-time video to its telemedicine stroke program — but Reed anticipates the technology’s inevitable arrival as a widespread mobile communications tool.

“Whether it’s through Facetime, or Skype, or what have you, the real-time video wave is coming, especially with more people having iOS and Android applications,” Reed says. “For the moment though, in hospitals, we try to discourage all that because we don’t want people sending photos of patients. Everything comes back to compliance.”

Like most healthcare CIOs, Reed has embraced the BYO phenomenon, implementing Citrix and VMWare solutions that enable physicians to use their own devices while maintaining access to legacy applications that are still client/server-based.

To better facilitate rapid communication among physicians, Atlantic has begun piloting a secure text messaging app that appears promising. Currently, about 60 physicians are using the PIN-protected app, enabling them to receive PHI on-the-fly without violating any privacy rules. It took a while to find the right vendor because some of the apps were just too cumbersome to use, but it’s proven a reliable, safe tool for time sensitive communications.

“These are the things we’re doing now, but who knows,” adds Reed. “As healthcare changes and hospitals become smaller as the ambulatory side grows, what other tools will we need to support patients in their homes?”

Intel’s Worldwide Medical Director, Mark Blatt, M.D., is among those convinced that that’s where real-time voice and video technologies increasingly will come into play, enabling true POC collaboration among clinicians.

Although it will likely be another two quarters before he has the proof points he needs to offer examples of healthcare organizations that are effectively and creatively using IA mobile tools in this manner, he’s convinced we’re getting close.

Proactive CIOs who want to position their organizations accordingly, he says, should embrace three key concepts: choose the right device for the task; rearrange workflows to move toward collaboration; and, think about the compute model and how information is delivered to a mobile device.

“The mobile form factors are slate computers when you want them, laptops when you need them,” Dr. Blatt says. “And if I’m thinking about it from an operating perspective, consider that Windows* 8 is backward compatible with all your legacy equipment. All your peripherals and drivers just work, and you have the trusted security and manageability tools you’ve become comfortable with.”

What steps is your healthcare organization taking to better integrate clinicians and community-based care givers?

As a B2B journalist, John Farrell has covered healthcare IT since 1997 and is Intel’s sponsored correspondent.