What to Look for in a Healthcare Mass Notification System

A healthcare mass notification system is a multi-functional communication system that can be utilized for many different purposes. Although most often considered to be an ideal solution for alerting staff, patients, and visitors to an emergency, a healthcare mass notification system can also streamline internal communications, enhance patient care, and support healthcare marketing efforts.

However, in order to achieve the maximum possible benefits, a healthcare mass notification system must be compliant with state and federal laws, overcome the problem of alert fatigue in the healthcare industry, and be capable of sending targeted messages to specific recipients. This article expands on some of these issues, and suggests features to look for in a healthcare mass notification system.

Using a Healthcare Mass Notification System in Emergencies

When you think about emergency mass notification systems, you tend to think of fire alarms, digital signage, and public address systems because these are the emergency communication systems you most often encounter in day-to-day life due to local fire code requirements stipulating the systems are tested several times a year. However, they are not the only components of an emergency mass notification system.

In many types of emergency incidents, fire alarms, digital signage, and public address systems are inadequate at communicating the appropriate message in the appropriate format. For example, in the event of a severe weather alert, an active shooter, or an external chemical hazard, you do not want to initiate an evacuation and further endanger your employees. Furthermore, it may be necessary to provide more information about the incident than can fit onto digital signage or announced in a public broadcast.

For these reasons, a healthcare mass notification system should consist of multiple communication channels that can alert staff, patients, and visitors to an emergency. For example, SMS text can be used to inform recipients about the nature and location of the emergency, while further instructions can be communicated by email. Most people have access to a mobile devices capable of receiving SMS texts and emails, so the notifications would be as efficient at reaching recipients as a fire alarm.

New call-to-actionNaturally, whatever mass notification solution is implemented must be capable of being integrated with existing fire alarms, digital signage, and public address systems for when those communication systems are appropriate. Integration with existing systems not only accelerates the speed with which alerts can be issued, but may also help compliance with state and local laws (Americans with Disabilities Act, NFPA 72, UL 2572, etc.) particularly when it comes to alerting patients whose first language is not English.

Healthcare facilities are required under 42 CFR §489.10 to provide meaningful access to services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons in order to participate in the Medicare program. Therefore, if a risk assessment identifies a significant LEP population using the healthcare facility's services, the facility must include multi-lingual alerts that meet its population's needs in its CMS-mandated Emergency Preparedness Plan and Communications Plan.

Streamlining Internal Communications with Mass Notifications

Healthcare mass notifications systems have been around for several years, and - as the use of Internet-connected mobile devices has increased - the systems have evolved into more than a way of communicating emergency alerts. Many healthcare facilities have taken advantage of the capability to segment databases into an unlimited number of groups (also known as a Distributed Recipient Mass Notification System) in order to streamline internal communications.

Examples of how healthcare facilities are lowering costs through increased day-to-day operational efficiencies include code calls and ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) alerts. These would have previously been communicated via pagers and public address systems, but now technologically-advanced healthcare mass notifications systems ensure that the right information gets to the right person(s) at the right time while minimizing disruption elsewhere.

A further benefit of using healthcare mass notification systems in a medical emergency (or any other type of emergency) is that the systems support two-way communication. Originally this function was provided to increase situational awareness during an emergency, but it has also been used to arrange unplanned meetings at short notice and to fill open shifts. Indeed the way systems are used to fill open shifts saves nurse managers an incredible amount of time.

geo-poll-healthRather than send a mass notification to all members of staff, nurse managers send a poll to the group of nurses qualified to cover the open shift. The poll asks a question such as “Looking to cover two early shifts in the Oncology Unit. Are you available?” and gives recipients the choice of two answers - “Yes” or “No”. The poll is sent via SMS text, email, and voice broadcast - which enables staff without Internet-connected mobile devices to respond - and closes once the required number of nurses to cover the open shifts has replied.

The poll feature can be used in multiple scenarios - not just to cover open shifts - and the choice of answers does not have to be limited to “Yes” or “No”. The feature can - for example - be used to check in with nurses working alone in the community and identify their last known location if they are unresponsive via an HTML5 geolocation API. Similarly, the feature can locate injured or trapped members of staff during a fire, severe weather event, or other emergency incident.

How to Overcome Alert Fatigue with Unique Ringtones

If there is a disadvantage of healthcare mass notification systems, it is that they increase healthcare workers´ exposure to an already overwhelming volume of alerts in the workplace. “Alert Fatigue” due to regular alerts being issued by Computerized Provider Order Entry Systems (CPOEs), smart intravenous infusion pumps, and cardiac monitoring devices is an acknowledged condition in healthcare facilities and is allegedly responsible for more than two hundred avoidable deaths between 2005 and 2010.

A study into the cognitive load on healthcare workers caused by excessive alerts was conducted in 2013. Researchers concluded that the number of alerts healthcare workers were exposed to is excessive, and could result in an unsafe patient environment. The study recommended that different types of technologies should emit different types of alert according to the severity of the situation. However, due to the technologies being designed by different vendors, this solution is impractical.

With regard to healthcare mass notification systems, there is a difference inasmuch as the majority of alerts are delivered via healthcare workers' mobile devices. In addition - and as the study recommended - it is possible to apply different ringtones to different types of alert. Therefore, a unique ringtone could be assigned for emergency notifications, another for code calls, and another for polls - alerting the healthcare worker to the nature of the alert before they even look at their cellphone screens.

In addition, when a healthcare mass notification system includes a user administration portal, patients and visitors can opt into the system via SMS and then use the portal to personalize how they receive emergency alerts and non-emergency notifications. For example, they can select their preferred language, which non-emergency notifications they get, and the channel of communication through which they would prefer to receive non-emergency notifications (i.e. social media rather than SMS text).

Summary of What to Look for in a Healthcare Mass Notification System

  • Multi-Modal Communications

  • Integration with Existing Notification Systems

  • Compliance with State and Federal Laws

  • Auto-Translation Capabilities

  • Geo-Polling Facility

  • Two-Way Functionality

  • SMS Opt-In Option

  • User Administration Portal

The Rave Alert Healthcare Mass Notification System

The Rave Alert healthcare mass notification system enables system administrators to send unlimited messages to unlimited recipients with three clicks of a mouse via an easy-to-use interface accessible from any Internet-connected device. Our system includes all the features mentioned above, plus pre-set templates that make sure the right message is sent to the right people during a stressful incident, and which make it easy for infrequent users to send messages in an emergency.

In addition to sending alerts and notifications via multiple channels of communication, Rave Alert integrates with existing management and HR programs to ensure its database of contacts is always kept current and accurate. As a FEMA Certified IPAWS Alert Origination Service Provider, weather alerts are forwarded automatically from the National Weather Service, while users do not need to download an app to receive geo-poll messages or to engage in two-way conversations.

Each organization using the Rave Alert healthcare mass notification system receives a branded user administration portal which supports SMS opt-in. Databases can be segmented into an unlimited number of groups and sub-groups according to the individuals' roles, locations or other attributes, and separate groups can be created for opt-in subscribers by the keyword used. The system also includes a robust reporting dashboard for administrators to view detailed “by recipient” reports.

To find out more about our healthcare mass notification system, or to schedule a free demonstration of Rave Alert in action, do not hesitate to contact us. Our team of safety experts will be happy to answer your questions, discuss your current emergency notification system, and suggest ways in which Rave Alert could be integrated with your existing solution to save time, save money and potentially save lives.

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