By Nicole Limpert
Hospital call centers provide a critical service to both patients and healthcare organizations. In previous articles we’ve explored how call centers are supporting emergency departments during the pandemic, help patients connect remotely with their care teams via patient monitoring devices and telehealth, and how medical answering services have grown to include telephone triage as part of their support.
Healthcare communication is complex and notoriously disconnected. Different departments rely on different systems to perform their job and these technologies typically don’t talk with each other. It may surprise some, but some call center software is highly interoperable, which hospitals and clinics leverage to bridge communication gaps between disparate technology to streamline communication. This improves hospital workflows and both patient and staff satisfaction.
Integration engines, also called middleware, used in hospital call centers can streamline inbound and outbound communications, trigger scripting, and automate dispatching. Integration engines are the interoperable piece that connects different technologies, so they communicate with each other. A robust middleware is completely scalable and works with software from other vendors.
Using Integration Engines to Enhance Patient Care
Here are some common applications:
Hospital Admissions: When a patient is admitted into a hospital, they may be moved from one room to another while waiting for tests and procedures, and during recovery. It can become difficult to locate and communicate with a patient once they are receiving care within the system.
An integration engine with an HL7 interface can assign a fixed phone number to each patient, which will follow them for the duration of their stay. Associating each patient with one phone number helps:
- Ease the stress of family and friends who are trying to find their loved one when they are transferred to a different room.
- Streamline the communication process for anyone on the patient’s care team.
- Reduce the number of calls to the hospital’s call center.
Critical Alerts: Integration engines work together with a hospital’s event notification software system to expedite enterprise-wide critical alerts in healthcare environments. The integration engine captures requests from hospital systems such as ADT (admission, discharge, and transfer) messages, nurse call messages, smart beds, pain management, alerts, alarms, orders, or appointments. Then, emergency notification software instantly sends those messages to designated recipients using a wide variety of methods, including Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, email, and secure messaging apps.
Using an integration engine means automated notifications, customized to fit a hospital’s needs, based on configurable rules. Notifications can be sent via preferred contact methods to an individual, an entire group, or the current on-call personnel, which enables recipients to respond quickly to provide better patient care.
Accumulated statistics for each notification provide an easy-to-follow audit trail for reporting purposes and help healthcare organizations refine their communication processes.
Patient Transfer: The Joint Commission found 80 percent of serious medical errors were the result of miscommunication between caregivers during patient handovers. Multiple studies have highlighted the need for better communication during patient transfers.
One study states, “Some challenges transferring physicians face with communication include physician shift changes, ancillary staff changes, delays between ordering tests and receiving results, and competing attention of other active patients. Accepting physicians also face their own challenges related to patient transfers. . . . Calls back to the transferring facility are far from efficient and are often routed through emergency departments, medical records departments, and radiology reading rooms making information gathering cumbersome.”
More hospitals are establishing patient transfer centers, and integration engines are facilitating communication between clinicians and transport assets. Each staff member involved in a patient transfer needs to have the same information. Integration engines enable staff to have access to key directory databases such as on-call, hospital personnel, and patient directories (which include ADT and EMR [Electronic Medical Record] data) to ensure information is communicated accurately and efficiently to enhance collaborative care.
Using Integration Engines for Automated, Emergency, and Mass Notifications
Automated notification and reminder communications can help healthcare organizations ensure utilization of every resource to its full potential and reach more staff personal in less time. Notifications for emergencies, events, changes in weather, and everyday reminders can instantly be sent to designated recipients using secure messaging apps, Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, and email.
The primary role of an integration engine is to facilitate automated communications. An operator in a call center can initiate dispatch scenarios. But they can also run automatically based on inbound triggers such as HL7 and email messages, scheduled to run on a recurring basis, initiated by a web user running a web script, or triggered by a third-party application.
Mass notifications make it possible for an organization to be better prepared for planned and unplanned events, such as natural disasters, emergencies, service outages, meetings, and other instances when large groups, small groups, and individuals need quick and accurate notification.
Third-Party Integration with APIs
Third-party integration happens when a vendor connects to another vendor’s application. API’s (application program interfaces) can achieve this connection. Using an API means that developers can build a new solution using existing components instead of creating code from scratch. Integrating an API into another vendor’s solution saves an incredible amount of time, is less costly, and results in a solution that best fits a hospital’s communication and technology requirements.
The same APIs used in hospital call centers to streamline communication can also enable healthcare facilities to interface with:
- dashboard workforce management
- electronic health record (EHR)
- landline to text
- nurse call and triage
- short message service (SMS)
- secure messaging
- telehealth video conferencing
- wireless communications transfer protocol
- wireless devices
Both hospital call center staff and clinicians must be able to access the information they need at any time from any place; it’s a fundamental and critical part of any healthcare organization’s communication protocol. Hospital personnel can use some of the same web-based communication software used in their call center because it delivers fast, secure communications and adds efficiencies through remote access to reduce the number of potential errors caused by miscommunication and absences.
Web-based communication applications specifically developed for the healthcare industry include encrypted secure messaging, care team collaboration, and workforce management tools. Enterprise access to these healthcare communication tools improves workflows because clinical staff can find the information they need on their own, without interrupting co-workers or employees in other departments.
Secure Messaging: Secure organizational communication is crucial for protecting patients, medical staff, and hospital organizations. HIPAA-compliant messaging apps can send secure text, photo, audio, and video content while protecting patient privacy and typically work on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. These apps simplify collaborative care to provide a better patient experience, and speed the process of patient admissions, lab results, and patient transport.
Care Team Collaboration: Nurses, physicians, and other staff use mobile-friendly care team collaboration applications to remotely access on-call schedules, directories, messages, reports, telephone scripts, and even historical call management data quickly and efficiently either through the Internet or through a healthcare organization’s internal networks.
Workforce Management: Staff can view, edit, copy, override, assign, and unassign schedules in real-time; use directories to quickly find and contact staff (titles, departments, office hours, and preferred contact method displayed); and use the reporting function to track, view, and print communications (with complete and accurate statistics).
Any authorized staff member, from any location, can schedule and manage appointment calendars, class registrations, event calendars, and workforce schedules.
Hospital call centers are the hub of communication for an organization. This includes being part of an organization’s paging system to reach on-call personnel. However, some hospitals use the same status-based messaging system without involving an operator.
Physicians and staff members can call a special paging extension and enter an identification number for the person they want to reach. This paging technique locates the requested person in the personnel directory with information about that individual’s status such as in office, making rounds, out of office, or on-call.
The system announces the individual’s name and status to the person who has called the paging extension and prompts them to enter a callback number or message. Then the message or callback number is sent via the person’s preferred contact method.
This method also provides paging reports and analytics so departments can leverage the data to improve service metrics, workflows, and to help protect both patients and hospitals in litigious situations. The reports provide useful information such as the number of pages, detailed logs that indicate if each page attempt was successful or not, and counts for email messages, SMS messages, secure messaging app messages, and other types of paging.
Improving communication in hospitals is paramount. Healthcare organizations can reduce many root causes of inefficient communication by using the software and technologies that may already be in use in their call centers.
Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.