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The Healthcare Industry Faces Ongoing Communication Challenges

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ShoreTel Healthcare unified Communications

One-way pagers stuffed into surgical smocks should have gone out of style by the time “Chicago Hope” faded into the television ether in 2000. Unfortunately, nearly 15 years into the 21st Century, the healthcare profession is still largely far behind the times when it comes to modern communications technology.

Healthcare professionals themselves are up on the latest technology. A recent study by Spyglass Consulting Group found that 96 percent of licensed physicians in the U.S. regularly use smartphones as their primary device to communicate, manage their personal and professional workflows, get news and information, and browse the Internet for medical-related information.

Healthcare facilities, however, are not. Spyglass also found that fully one-third of the 950,000 licensed physicians in the U.S. are still required to use legacy alphanumeric pagers for work-related communications. Even worse, that especially applies to those involved in critical and rapidly-evolving specialties such as emergency/trauma, critical care, surgery and radiology.

It’s not that anybody wants to use pagers, but at least they’re secure. According to an article in InformationWeek, Atlantic Health System found that over half its clinicians were using insecure SMS text messaging despite repeated warnings from the IT staff.

"We are blue in the face telling our clinicians and nurses, 'You can't do this. SMS is not safe,'” said Linda Reed, CIO at Atlantic Health. But, she added, “At the end of the day, not doing it is not practical."

And that’s only half the problem. Nurses are often overlooked when it comes to analyzing healthcare communications. A Kansas University Medical School survey revealed that 92 percent of nurses said their most common forms of communications at work were face-to-face and telephone conversations.

This is a situation that has to change. Even as modes of treatment have undergone dramatic technological improvements, healthcare institutions have vastly under-funded upgrades to their communications technology.  

That’s a costly oversight. The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies U.S. healthcare organizations, has found that ineffective communications were the primary cause of more than 70 percent of treatment delays and unexpected deaths or injuries.

A study by the Ponemon Institute found that clinicians lost more than 45 minutes per day by relying on pagers and other outdated communications technology. The decline in efficiency cost the U.S. healthcare industry more than $5.1 billion annually, according to Ponemon.

Further, the healthcare profession is under more pressure than ever before to increase efficiency. There are some 75 million baby boomers to care for, and they are starting to reach retirement age, requiring more complex medical care from more specialists. The Affordable Care Act also adds new regulations that beg for more efficiency. Medicare and Medicaid may reduce payments to hospitals with too many patients readmitted within 30 days. There are also pay-for-performance incentives and new patient-centered care models that would benefit from better communication between patient and care provider.

Clearly, 21st Century medicine has a critical need for 21st Century communications technology. To read more about unified communications for healthcare agencies, see “How Mobile Unified Communications Transform Clinical Workflows.”