If you’ve ever spent any time as a patient in hospital, you’ll know how confusing it can be to tell who is in charge of your care. In a 24-hour period there can be over ten doctors, nurses, pharmacists and allied health staff looking after you – with this likely to change on an hour by hour basis.
Most patients trust the system, assuming the health professionals looking after them know what is going on, but the truth is this is not always the case. It’s difficult even for clinicians to know who is performing which role at any given time.
Sure, there are rosters, but these are rarely accurate. Shifts are swapped, individuals call in sick, and staff have to attend to emergencies on short notice. Doctors are constantly being interrupted by phone calls, pagers and people wanting help, and without any proper system for managing tasks, important jobs are often sidelined in favour of less important ones.
Nurses often simply don’t know who to contact when a patient requires a doctor’s attention, putting patients at risk. The frustration created by this situation is an almost universal phenomenon in hospitals worldwide. Clinical staff feel it acutely; we’re simply unable to provide the type of care to patients that we’d like to.
The fact is, hospital communications are woefully outdated. Everything is managed on Excel spreadsheets, whiteboards or printed lists, which are out of date almost as soon as they’re published. We communicate via pagers that have been around for half a century: insecure, one-way communication devices that are limited to the length of a tweet. This, in the age of the smartphone. It’s no wonder clinical staff are turning to the unsanctioned use of WhatsApp and SMS to communicate with each other.
Hospitals are ripe for tech disruption. They urgently need new technology and systems that address these issues – that provide access to up-to-the-minute staff rosters, and link up with other internal hospital systems, such as pathology and electronic medical records, so test results are not forgotten or missed due to switching staff.
The visibility of all tasks throughout a hospital is also critical, so managers can reallocate jobs appropriately or add staff where needed. By having access to this information, clinical staff can prioritise their workload without needing to stop working on their current task.
Being at the forefront, clinical staff know exactly where the pain points are in how they communicate with one another and have a firm understanding of the information they need in order to be able to prioritise patient care. They recognise the systems currently in use are problematic and that better technology could yield not only faster response times and less frustration for staff and patients, but real improvements in quality of care.
It’s time to listen to those on the frontline and to address these problems. Otherwise these issues are only going to get worse as hospitals continue to expand.
Dr Andrew Yap is a medical doctor and the CEO of Medtasker, a hospital communication and task management platform.