By Tara Gibson - March 31, 2021
There are many different types of communication systems in healthcare, and many different ways in which they are used. Expanding on every type of healthcare communication system in one place would be impractical, so in this blog we'll focus on the three most common uses of electronic communication systems in healthcare.
In the mid to late twentieth century, the healthcare industry underwent a massive expansion. Between 1960 and 2000, the amount spent on healthcare in the U.S. increased from 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 13.4 percent of GDP largely driven by the introduction of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Although the rate of growth at the start of the twenty-first century slowed, healthcare spending accounted for 17.7 percent of GDP prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
The increased availability of prescription drugs - and doctors' willingness to prescribe them - led to the development of the slogan “there's a pill for every ill”. As the side-effects of some prescription drugs became apparent, the slogan further developed into “there's a pill for every ill, and an ill for every pill”. The same slogan could be equally applied to communication systems in healthcare.
As the healthcare industry underwent a massive expansion, so did healthcare information technology. At the time Medicare and Medicaid were introduced, using computers to collect and manage medical records was expensive, and only the largest healthcare organizations could afford to develop electronic healthcare information management systems.
These systems were good for maintaining medical records, but did little to improve communication between healthcare providers, lacked standard protocols, and were found to have security issues. The lack of interoperability, the security issues, and cost were identified as barriers to more healthcare organizations implementing similar systems according to the Institute of Medicine.
Even when healthcare information technology became cheaper, and a federal plan was announced to incentivize the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), there was no improvement in communication between healthcare providers, nor between healthcare providers and patients. An analysis of more than 200,000 malpractice claims between 1985 and 2008 found that a failure of communication was a major contributor to the negligent care provided.
In order to address communication issues, improve the quality of healthcare, and enhance productivity, technological solutions started emerging for every healthcare process. There are now solutions for family doctors to process referrals, for team members to collaborate on a patient's healthcare, for pharmacists to process prescriptions, and for patients to understand aftercare routines following their discharge.
Outside of communications relating to the direct care of patients, there are technological solutions that streamline patient transfers, the receipt of lab results, insurance payment claims, and non-medical internal communications - which now includes the Communication Plan of the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Rule. Typically, communication solutions can be divided into three categories:
The provider-to-provider category of healthcare communication systems encompasses every solution used for referrals, collaboration, issuing scripts, transferring patients, receiving lab results, and processing payments. It is also the category of healthcare communication systems that comes under most scrutiny for compliance within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In most cases, provider-to-provider communication systems in healthcare have to follow strict guidelines for ensuring the integrity of data. Typically, this means they have mechanisms that log users out of the system after a period of inactivity - which makes them impractical as a provider-to-patient communication system or as an emergency alert and notification system.
There are many different types of provider-to-patient communication systems in healthcare - from SMS appointment reminder systems to more advanced telemedicine solutions that integrate with EHRs. Usually, it is not required for these systems to have the same technological safeguards as provider-to-provider systems, but they must be used in compliance with HIPAA and only after obtaining patient consent.
There are also many types of patient-to-provider healthcare communication systems - from clinical consultation services by e-mail to nurse call systems that alert providers to any change in the patient's condition. More advanced patient-to-provider systems can also be linked with EHRs to update medical records automatically, and although not necessarily HIPAA compliant, have to be used compliantly.
According to CMS' Emergency Preparedness Rule, all healthcare facilities in receipt of Medicare or Medicaid payments are required to implement an Emergency Plan which includes a system to contact staff and other personnel that is “well-coordinated within the facility, across healthcare providers, and with state and local public health departments and emergency management agencies”.
Federally mandated emergency alert and notification systems can also be configured to address internal communication issues, improve the quality of healthcare, and enhance productivity by segmenting personnel databases in order to create messaging groups. Additional SMS opt-in and geo-poll capabilities ensure the right message gets to the right person at the right time and that emergency alerts and notifications are accountable.
If you are still wondering about the “ill for every pill” when it comes to communication systems in healthcare, it is that no one system can provide a single integrated communications solution that serves every purpose of healthcare communication. As previously mentioned, the log-out mechanisms in provider-to-provider systems make them impractical for emergency alerts, while the capabilities of provider-to-patient systems (or vice versa) do not support mass notification.
The closest there is to an integrated communications solution is an emergency alert and notification system. Provided it is used in compliance with HIPAA, the solution can be used for referrals and to foster collaboration, for provider-to-patient interactions (and in some cases for patient-to-provider consultation requests), and for enhancing facility-wide internal communications. Importantly, integrated communication solutions can also be used to improve relationships between neighboring healthcare facilities.
To find out more about integrated emergency alert and notification systems with this level of capability, do not hesitate to get in touch. Our team of communications experts will be happy to discuss your existing emergency preparedness and other ways in which our emergency alert and notification systems can enhance safety, security, and communication within your healthcare facility.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!