Implementation of secure, two-way radios and headsets in the Bothwell Regional Health Center Emergency Department this past spring is providing better communication between staff members, which in turn expedites patient care.
Success in the ED with patient flow, patient safety and staff safety prompted other departments to try the radios and headsets. So far everyone is pleased with the performance and the immediate information flow. The system is small — the staff wears a small earpiece connected to a radio receiver secured on their belt. A small microphone is push-button activated, making the system discreet and non-obtrusive.
Joe Keary, BRHC director of emergency department services, presented the idea earlier this year. Since that time, additional Bothwell departments have begun using the technology.
“When I started here, we identified that we had a communication issue within the department,” Keary said.
The communication issues “interrupted patient flow” and he suggested they place everyone on radios.
“So, it would bridge that gap for us,” he added. “We put them out front with our admitting staff, so from the first time a patient checks in it’s announced over the radio. So all the ER staff knows there’s a new patient. Before that, it was a phone call to one person, and if that one person is busy, there might be a delay, while they wait to tell someone else.”
The radios and headsets have reduced delays in the ED and sped up patient care.
“It allows us to be more responsive, from nurse to nurse” he noted. “If I’m in a room, and the patient is changing, and I need more help I have the whole department, one button away.”
Keary formerly worked for Hospital Corporation of America, a conglomeration of several hospitals in the Kansas City area. The radios were so successful there, they began using the system in all seven of their hospitals.
“I said ‘I’ve used it before, I’ve seen it be very successful, so let’s give it a shot here,’” he said. “It’s been very successful for us.”
The radios and headsets were next tried in BRHC’s Perioperative Services, then in 2-Southwest and Pediatrics.
Keary said one of the benefits for the nursing floors is when there’s a small department such as Pediatrics, with possibly two patients and one nurse, they can pair up with a larger department and use the same radio frequency. If a child goes into crisis, help is near and immediate.
“That way they can have all those other nurses at their fingertips” he said. “They found a huge benefit from an operational standpoint.”
Keary said the system is a “closed radio group system,” making it private. No patient information is shared or obtained with outside sources.
“The radios are programmed to talk to another radio,” he said. “So, if you went out and bought the same radio you wouldn’t be able to hear us or talk to us. That’s how we are able to keep it private. They have to be connected to each other, so they know I’m OK to talk to this radio.”
Each unit or department has its own closed group channel.
“That way when I’m talking in the ER, I’m not interrupting a surgical conversation,” Keary added.
Keary said he usually wears a headset even while at meetings, because he can hear instantly if there’s an ED problem that requires an immediate response.
The system is low maintenance, easy to use, and more economical compared to a cordless phone system.
“Which is very difficult in a hospital, because we use so much shielding because of x-ray machines and that kind of stuff,” he said of cordless phones. “You end up having to wire up all these repeater boxes and it’s very expensive.”
Keary said he’s worked in facilities where nursing staff have used cordless phones. The constant ringing is obtrusive and the patient may think the phone is being used for a personal call.
“Where on the radio, someone can say something, and you can very discreetly push the button and answer a question,” he noted. “It’s been a huge game-changer in the ER with our ability to communicate.”
He added that “door-to-bed time” for patients has been reduced, but the radios also provide safety from assault for staff when dealing with mentally ill patients.
“If you are in a room by yourself and they start acting out, before it was hoping someone could help you, but now you press a button,” he said. “Not only do I have my entire staff here, but we have our front desk, who also has the radio to our security department.”
Jeannie Vanderlinden, director of Perioperative Services, said the system has been beneficial to her unit as well. Perioperative Services has been using the system for approximately three months.
“Perioperative encompasses several departments,” she said. “We don’t use them in all perioperative services, we use them in our same-day surgery, and our operating room and our sterile processing department. When we get patients ready in same-day surgery, everything is timed … we don’t want patients to wait to go to surgery, we don’t want doctors to wait on nurses to get patients ready.”
She added that the system cuts down the pre-surgery communication time for labs, tests and doctor pre-op checks. Communication before was done by a phone process, which in turn, went from one person to another. With the radio system everyone is on the same page all at once.
“Now the team leader in both units, operating room and same-day surgery, wear the headsets as do all of the RNs that work in same-day surgery,” Vanderlinden said. “It just really increases the efficiency. Those are very busy areas and when the phone continually rings, all it does is provide a continual distraction.”
She added that the system has cut down on phone calls, decreased noise levels, increased the nurse’s efficiency and improved privacy.
“It’s streamlined all of that,” she noted.
The system has also increased the efficiency of sterile instruments delivered to the OR and decreased the wait for supplies.
“Right now they are working out very well,” Vanderlinden added. “I think it really increases efficiency and productivity.”
Barbara Peterson, director of Marketing and Communications, said the system is a new experience for her, but she is pleased with how the radios and headsets are working.
“It seems so obvious when you look back on it,” she noted.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.