Ottawa nurses cut out middle man with UC system

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) has been able to significantly shorten the time it takes for its nurses to receive call backs from doctors by rolling a unified communication system that works both on wireless LAN and cellular networks.

Prior to the deployment last month of a UC system from Vocera Communications Inc., the hospital’s 600 nurses and clinical staff relied on a nearly fully manual method of communicating with doctors, according to Hana Pika, CIO of the UOHI. While the hospital has a collection of alert codes employed on the public address system for various emergency situations, routine issues are relayed through a more cumbersome method.

“When a nurse wants to replay some non-emergency issue concerning a patient to the appropriate doctor, he or she needs to walk to the clerk’s station to request a call,” Pika said. “The clerk alerts the hospital call centre and the call centre puts out a call to the doctor.”

It takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours for the message to get through these intermediary channels and for the nurse to get the reply from the doctor.

“We’re a very busy hospital that receives as many as 80,000 visits each year,” said Pica. “By the doctor calls back, the nurse could likely be doing something else so the process has to be repeated all over again.”

Last April, with the help of IBM Canada, the UOHI began a pilot program that will eventually see the roll out of Vocera Communication badges to the hospital’s 1,200 staff members.

The device is a voice-activated device that looks like a small digital recorder. It functions similar to the communicator badge worn on their chest by the crew of the USS Enterprise in the sci-fi adventure television show Star Trek. Users can request to page or call a person or even put out a broadcast on the PA system by simply speaking their orders much like Captain Jim Kirk would call Dr. McCoy or Spock.

“The nurse has to issue simple voice commands like ‘Call Dr. Smith’ or ‘Call pharmacy’ to be connected,” said Pika.

IBM, the exclusive reseller of Vocera in Canada, provided the consulting, architecture, design and implementation of the service.

While the Badge system was introduced in the country in the early 2000s and is being used in more than 70 Canadian hospitals, the UOHI is the first hospital one to employ a new feature which enable’s interoperability with mobile phones, according to Pika.

“The advantage of this upgrade is that communication is not limited to the wireless network inside the hospital,” she said. “Nurses can place instant calls to a doctor’s iPhone or BlackBerry and reach them using the cellular network.”

Calls and responses time were cut down from hours to minutes.

“The new system enables our teams to respond faster, ensure that our patients and their families benefit from the best care possible and saves time and money,” said Dr. Robert Roberts, president of UOHI.

At the moment Phase 1 of the project is focusing on providing all nursing staff at UOHI with the communication badges. This phase will also including the involvement of nine doctors in piloting the smart phone application.
Phase 2, will involve the deployment of the smart phone app to all the UOHI doctors. This phase will also include the addition of additional functions such as on-call and group paging features. This means that when a nurse makes a call such as “Page on-call cardiologist,” the system itself will identify the physician to call rather than passing through the central communication system.

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