Communication breakdowns in the health care system put patients at high risk, especially those no longer able to care for themselves. By 2030 there will be over 75 million Americans who are over the age of 65. This generation is living longer than its predecessors and with more chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and heart conditions.
The Charlotte Observer recently featured a frightening tale of what can happen when communication breaks down. An elderly man was admitted to a memory care facility as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. Despite recovering well from recent surgery, his family was told he was suffering from renal failure. Suddenly, the family observed that no one in the facility was giving him water on his food tray, and he was in fact suffering from dehydration. With proper care and follow-up, he was stabilized. The facility chalked up the mistake to a “communication error.”
Unfortunately, mistakes like this are not uncommon. Communication errors are frequent in regards to geriatric patients, partly due to the low amount of Geriatricians in the United States. Specializing in the health of the elderly is one of the most costly medical careers to pursue. Without many physicians advocating on their behalf, it is even more important that elderly patients be carefully monitored using more innovative methods and alert systems.
In 2014, the FDA cleared 24 digital health devices and more devices will continue to be cleared in 2015. Over 90% of MDs said that digital health devices will become an important part of their practice and over half shared a willingness to prescribe medications based off a vital signs biosensor tool or a urinalysis devices. Patients unable to travel far to visit physicians can be monitored with wearable devices in case of emergency. While it is still necessary for in-person visits or even home care, such devices can reduce the number of times a patient must travel out of their way simply for routine testing. Doctors can also communicate with patients and share results through a patient portal. This allows patients to view results, ask questions, and monitor their own health data.
We’ve also previously noted in our blog that long-term goals of hospital room redesigns include establishing wireless monitors that will act as smart phones and can be connected to an app on the monitoring nurse’s tablet. In addition to monitors, infusion pumps, anesthesia machines, and more, could be tied to each patient’s electronic health record firing off warnings of life-threatening conditions when necessary. Such tools could be hugely valuable in monitoring elderly patients. (Tip – check out our eBook on image enabling the EMR).
At the University of Vermont Medical Center, vitals go directly to the EHR allowing nurses to focus on patient care rather than note-taking and file-sorting. One communication gap frequently cited by nurses is that nursing data and clinical data often sit on separate IT systems and lack interoperability. Hospitals must move away from siloed systems to interoperable structures for patients, nurses, and providers to collaborate. Creating communication workflows can enhance the travel of information and make sure that crucial nurse notes are not being missed.
How do you think we can avoid more dangerous errors in communication?