Operator Console or Mobile Communications Platform?

By Mike Devine

Back in the day, life for the hospital operator team and their trusty operator consoles consisted mainly of taking an inbound call and connecting it to the right person within the hospital. Done quickly, accurately, and professionally, this service was lauded as the backbone of mission-critical communications. And, boy, was it ever.

But life is different today for our operators and their trusty consoles. Messages zoom to the call center from many different places, people, and machines. In addition, messages are sent to a dizzying array of people and devices. Plus, we are frequently seeing messages in hospitals go from device to device or travel via voice systems.

In these cases, hospitals look to the professional operator group and their consoles as a safety net, a backup. If I know the number for Dr. Smith’s iPhone but get voicemail, I’m calling the operator group so they can page him. If I’m using voice recognition to get ahold of Nurse Davis and I can’t find her, guess what? I’m calling the operator team because that works. Those calls are handled by well-trained professionals who should have the right information a click or two away.

Because the hospital environment is increasingly mobile, we need to make sure our trusty consoles make communications hum better than ever. Here are four questions to see if your console system has what it takes to form a strong foundation for mobile communications.

1. Can you message to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices securely? You might already be “paging” to smartphones in some way. A good console system should be part of a mobile platform that includes messaging to this category of devices. When doing so, you need to make sure you protect sensitive health information to keep up with guidelines from HIPAA and the HITECH Act. This includes employing security features, like encryption and password-protected inboxes. You should also be able to complete a remote device wipe to remove information and messages from a device that has been lost or stolen.

This also raises the issues and limitations with using text messaging (SMS) for healthcare information. SMS lacks both message traceability and encryption, which could lead to security breaches. The Joint Commission has even stated that transmitting patient health information via text message is not an acceptable practice.

So, remember that a modern console system should let you do this kind of secure messaging to the next generation of mobile devices. Ease of use is important here, too. You should not have to open another system to message to smartphones. It should be integrated with your console and tied nicely with your directory and on-call schedules: all online, all easy, all secure, and all from one desktop.

2. Can your console system provide traceability that confirms closed-loop communications among staff, doctors, and other caregivers? The pressure is on to determine who sent the message, what time it was sent, who got it, and at what time. This is no longer a luxury. Today’s console systems should be part of a mobile platform that provides comprehensive reporting of all events, including time and date stamps of when a message was sent, when it was received by the device, when it was read by the person, when it was responded to, and what the response was. Improving the communication of critical notifications to your increasingly mobile staff is just one of the ways a top-notch system can help your facility improve patient care and satisfaction. An additional benefit of this can be achieved by working with a company like SaferMD that can help cut premiums for malpractice insurance by showing you have traceable communications in your hospital. With such savings, how’s that for instant ROI?

3. Can your operator console help staff step in to route critical alerts from clinical systems to caregivers on mobile devices? There are many machines that go beep in a hospital, such as heart monitors, pulse oximeters, and nurse call systems to name a few. These machines often need to relay critical information to the right caregiver who is carrying a mobile device. There are advances in technology today that allow this information to go straight to the mobile device of the caregiver. That is great, but since we are talking about critical communication, can your console system and operators be a backup to this? Can your operators take an alert from a system and quickly and accurately message it to a variety of caregivers on a variety of devices? In order to find the right person, does that involve pulling up an accurate directory and on-call calendar? Usually it does. Therefore, make sure your console system can handle such situations easily, quickly, and accurately.

4. Can your console system help physicians, specialists, and other staff reach one another quickly and effectively to speed patient care, all while taking into consideration how doctors prefer to be contacted? I once heard someone say it’s easier to get in touch with Fidel Castro than a doctor. An exaggeration maybe, but it is an interesting point. There is no doubt that hospital management is concerned with physicians and nurses who don’t have ‘real’ conversations about patient care. They leave notes on charts, write emails, leave voicemails, and use many ways to communicate, but what about a simple phone call to talk about a patient handoff? Well, that simple phone call can be tough to pull off because it involves details like: Who’s on call for cardiology? Is he in the clinic or at home? Should I contact him via his smartphone or clinic phone? There are just too many variables for anyone to master without a system that can help.

The right console system should be part of a broad, mobile platform or suite of solutions that includes a way for doctors to specify how they want to be contacted based on urgency, time of day, day of week, and mobile device. Operators, therefore, can be exposed to this logic when trying to link communications. Similarly, if one doctor is trying to connect with another via this system and the call is dropped, wouldn’t it be wise for a safety net from the operator group to step in and make those critical connections?

It All Adds Up: Hospital contact centers have changed dramatically over the years. Your team has to be trained and equipped to handle a more mobile environment. When your system provides complete capabilities that enable you to answer all these questions in the affirmative, you are well on the way to creating and managing a robust, secure, traceable mobile communication system.

Mike Devine is vice president of marketing at Amcom Software.

[From the June/July 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]