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Staff at Frisbie Memorial Hospital have added a new word to the healthcare lexicon. Whenever anyone needs to get in touch with someone else at the hospital, they "volt."
More precisely, they pull out their specially designed iPhones and call or text – one person, a select few people, an entire department. Responses are usually seconds away.
"In a community hospital we're all trying to bring things closer together," says Sally Gallot-Reeves, RN, MS, CPM, the 88-bed acute care hospital's healthcare project director. "And one of the things that we always, always talk about is how can we connect people? This gives us that connection."
The iPhones are facility-specific (they can't be used outside the hospital) and developed by Voalté (pronounced "volt"), a Sarasota, Fla.-based developer of mobile communication tools and services for healthcare facilities that's quickly becoming known throughout the country. Recognizable for their pink scrubs at trade shows and conventions (including HIMSS), the company is now partnering with a host of top health systems, including Massachusetts General Hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Texas Children's Hospital, the Nebraska Medical Center and the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Frisbie, the first acute-care hospital in New England and the fourth in the nation to adopt the Voalté platform, is a high-tech gem tucked into a sleepy little community along the New Hampshire-Maine border. Hospital officials looked to Voalté to redesign their communications platform after adding a new tower and doubling the campus footprint a little more than four years ago. But they had a tough road to hoe: Many executives, including the hospital's notoriously technology-shy president, didn't see the value in the technology.
"This was one of the most significant changes in technology that they were seeing," says John Marzinzik, Frisbie's vice president of finance. "We had people saying, 'I'll never do this.'"
Marzinzik says the project passed muster with the hospital's Technology Assessment Steering Committee (TASC), which recognized that the previous mishmash of landlines, chargeable phones and pagers wasn't going to do the job in the future. And while the iPhone platform was decidedly cutting-edge, he says, it won over the skeptics.
"You don’t want to be first in line, but you don't want to be three years behind, either," he points out.
Now, says Gallot-Reeves, "We wonder how we'd survive without it."
Frisbie launched the platform in late 2010, equipping inpatient units, the respiratory department and nursing supervisors with 90 Voalte´ iPhones, which are recharged and stored in carts in each department when not in use, and 21 web clients, integrated with the hospital's Avaya PBX and Aruba Wi-Fi network. By the end of that year, surgery, anesthesia and emergency department staff and providers had been brought on board, and in 2011 hospitalists, care managers and ancillary departments were added, bringing the total to 175 iPhones, 75 web clients and more than 500 users.
In addition, the system was extended to the hospital's fleet of three ambulances and one intercept vehicle through InMotion's technology platform and made a part of its emergency preparedness incident command service.
"It takes the place of a traditional radio system," says Shawn Linscott, the hospital's network lead administrator, pointing out that the system enables emergency responders to speak directly to a charge nurse and access medical libraries to better inform the hospital about incoming emergency cases.
Gallot-Reeves says the advantages are numerous. Those annoying and disruptive overhead pages are a part of history now, as are images of hospital staff running – or shouting – up and down hallways, trying to find someone or have an important question answered. A protocol has been established, she says, whereby phone calls require instant answers and texts are considered less urgent and can be responded to within 3-5 minutes.
"The noise level is reduced considerably," she says. "The coordination of care is much better – questions are answered at the bedside, rather than having someone run out of the room and track down someone. Even the amount of walking we do in a day is reduced."
She said hospital administrators were also concerned that this would become more of a social tool, and pointed to the surge in popularity that Facebook was experiencing at the time. Instead, she said, "everyone realized that this was a work tool."
Gallot-Reeves says Frisbie officials are eager to explore new projects with Voalté, such as pushing capabilities onto personal smartphones, developing tracking capabilities and and linking up the hospital's 17 remote practices. "The more we talk about these things, the more solutions we come up with," she says.
“Nurses are challenged with managing multiple patient requests, paperwork and other responsibilities,” said Trey Lauderdale, vice president of innovation at Voalté, in an introduction to the company's case study on Frisbie's implementation. “Oftentimes, performing their job successfully requires the ability to quickly communicate with other nurses, physicians and healthcare workers. Innovative hospitals like Frisbie are recognizing the importance and value of smartphone technology and how it can improve patient care."
Editor's note: Gallot-Reeves will discuss Frisbie Memorial Hospital's use of Voalté technology during the mHIMSS Virtual Briefing "Mobile Health IT: A Glimpse into the Technologies at Work Today in Healthcare," scheduled to take place from 12-3:15 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 8. Her session, titled "Mobile Apps that Positively Affect Patient Care: Our Experience," kicks off the forum and runs from 12-12:30 p.m.
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