The year was 2010. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Apple debuted the first iPad. The security provisions of the HITECH Act were kicking in. Wireless carriers began to offer 4G/LTE service, which meant faster speeds for doing everything on smartphones.
These events set the stage for a critical shift at the University of Utah Health Care (UUHC). At that time, UUHC's IT and telecommunications teams were becoming overwhelmed with requests; many of their 1,300 physicians wanted to communicate with one another via their smartphones. They were already using them for clinical decision support and reference, so why couldn't they convert their hallway conversations and phone tag to text messages?
In response, UUHC implemented a basic SMS-based communication system. But it didn't take long for them to realize that this system was not the solution their physicians were seeking. They had issues with reliability - carrier delays and a lack of cellular coverage in some areas of the hospital - as well as security concerns. The basic SMS-based system left protected health information (PHI) vulnerable.
Not only was the system not HIPAA-compliant, but it was also limiting workflows. "We heard of doctors receiving critical pages hours after they were sent, or missing pages entirely because of no-signal areas," explains Dr. Michael Strong, UUHC's chief medical information officer. "We knew we had to make a change."
Secure Text Messaging for Clinicians
Fortunately for UUHC, healthcare technology providers were taking notice of the need for secure text messaging for clinicians. UUHC evaluated several options, but found the one that seemed like it would be the best fit in 2011: Spok Mobile, a solution developed by critical communications leader, Spok.
UUHC was already a long-time user of Spok's contact center solutions, so when they heard that Spok's secure text messaging solution integrated with what they already had-particularly the enterprise directory and on-call scheduling - they decided to test it.
With four hospital and 10 clinics, it was immediately clear that UUHC had to start small. UUHC first organized a trial program for the solution with IT and telecom staff, followed by a group of tech-savvy physicians and clinical leadership.
Once these two groups responded positively, it was time to go bigger: UUHC added even more testers and also completed infrastructure improvements by saturating the campus with Wi-Fi and cellular coverage to eliminate trouble spots. At this point, UUHC also evaluated competitive solutions even more thoroughly than they had before the pilot.
"We needed a solution we could integrate into our workflows that was cost-effective, easy to implement, and more importantly, easy for our clinicians to use. Spok was the best fit," said Dr. Strong.
UUHC rolled out Spok Mobile system-wide in June 2013 and began offering it to medical residents during orientation one year later. Not surprisingly, it was a hit with the residents, most of whom were Millennials: More than 50% of incoming residents and students chose Spok Mobile.
SEE ALSO: Data Collection From Mobile Devices
Vital Member of the Team
Today, five years after the pilot, UUHC has nearly 800 Spok Mobile users, with plans for additional rollouts. Since implementing secure text messaging across the system, UUHC has seen tremendous results, including more timely communications among caregivers, greater clinician satisfaction as well as security and reliability.
Most notably, these benefits aren't limited to certain departments and can be seen in each area of the health system. In the contact center, Spok Mobile helped UUHC provide better patient communication. Instead of putting callers on hold, operators can send patient information directly and securely to the on-call provider. While still on a call with a patient, operators can confirm the provider received the message and inform the patient when the provider will be calling them back if they are unavailable at that moment.
Everyone on UUHC's emergency management team relies on Spok Mobile for its critical communications, and the solution proved its worth during a recent incident when there was a suspected bomb on campus. Having a secure text messaging system in place enabled UUHC's telecom dispatcher to quickly and securely communicate with the emergency management director, allowing the director to send detailed steps of action and manage the emergency response to the situation while still participating in the virtual command center.
UUHC's STEMI (segment elevation myocardial infarction) team was able to reduce the average notification time with secure text messaging as well. Now, team members can confirm availability through Spok Mobile instead of wasting valuable time waiting to get through to the operator. The ability to quickly and easily dial numbers directly from the app has also improved the communication process for team members.
Yet another example of stronger communications with secure text messaging is UUHC's hospitalist team, which uses it to communicate with all residents and interns. They like that it allows for long messages if details are warranted, as well as the ability to securely address patient care issues with residents regardless of location. These better workflows with longer messages simplify prioritization.
Overall, Spok Mobile has improved communication for clinicians and staff throughout the system, streamlining their workflows and quickly and securely giving them the information they need to provide the best care for patients. Like any new technology, secure text messaging took some time to take off, but now UUHC clinicians are truly mobile. "The app is really selling itself now because we are using it so much and people have really adopted it," said Dr. Strong. "We believe we achieved these results because of Spok."
While UUHC has achieved much success by incorporating secure text messaging as part of their overall enterprise communications approach, they know they have to keep pushing to continue to evolve their clinical communications. UUHC's next project is to replace 500 nursing Wi-Fi phones with Spok Mobile, which will allow interaction with UUHC's electronic medical record (EMR), nurse call, and patient monitoring systems. They are also planning rollouts to other groups that have asked to participate based on positive word of mouth, such as pharmacy, respiratory, and physical and occupational therapy.
UUHC IT and telecommunications teams are hard at work on these initiatives, but they're glad to be ahead of the curve. Over half (53%) of hospitals have yet to implement a secure text messaging solution according to a 2015 Spok survey. Security of PHI is a big driver of adopting secure text messaging solutions, but Dr. Strong cautions to think bigger than that and focus on flexible, integrated communication capabilities that are really built for enhancing clinical workflows and consequently, improving outcomes: "The question we always keep top of mind is 'What would perfect care look like?'"
Content provided by Spok.