UIHC transitions from pagers to iPhones


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With just a simple swipe of the screen, doctors and caregivers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics now have the means of instant communication at their fingertips — a task that once involved wasting minutes that should not be spared by using a pager.

“The nurse can page me to tell me ‘I need more pain medicines for this patient,’ but she sends it and then she can’t just stand there by the phone and wait for me to find a phone and call her back, she’s got to go back and attend to the patient,” said Douglas Van Daele, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the UI. “You can see where communication is delayed pretty substantially. If you’re that patient in the bed in pain, you want [medication] now.”

The UIHC has slowly transitioned from the use of pagers to the iPhone 4S for the past year and a half.

“Several years ago, we started researching different products and different ways we could provide more services than just the pager, the one-way text pager, which has been a very good communication tool, but very limited,” said Patrick Duffy, director of technical operations at UIHC. “Technologies have also really moved beyond paging.”

After starting with a pilot program of only 65 phones in the inpatient section, the number has grown to include about 1,500 phones. That number could soon reach 2,000.

“We looked at the inpatient as the area that we really felt the need to improve the physician, nursing, and other caregiver communication as being the most important area to start with,” Duffy said. “We do see that we have such a close tie with some of the other areas and clinics that it does make sense that we expand that.”

The iPhones come fully equipped with an app called Voalte, which works off the internal hospital wireless network and does not need exterior carriers, such as Verizon or AT&T, to run. The phones are checked out by officials before the start of their shifts.

The $2 million investment included not only the iPhones but also extra battery packs that allow physicians and caregivers to use the phone throughout their 11- to 12-hour shift. The cost also included training for users to learn how to use the application to the full extent.

The app allows officials to use secure texting, which is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The patient’s privacy is protected because the messages are encrypted, which makes them secure against hackers.

“It’s cut down on the number of telephone calls substantially,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said in a statement. “Staff can do things, get things done for the patient, in a much more efficient fashion.”

Although there is no distinct plan as to what the next course of action will be in expanding the iPhone service to other sections of the hospital, officials said they hope to evolve the system.
Officials are looking to medical-related applications and the nurse-call system into the phones.

“We see the increased functionality playing a big role, and we’re really starting to focus on that, but we do have quite a list of other people that would like to get on the system,” Duffy said.

UIHC officials had concerns about the perceptions patients might have when seeing their caregiver use an iPhone. Posters were created to educate patients and their families on the new platform of communication the doctors are using.

“We came up with some posters to put at every bedside,” Duffy said.  “It basically just tells the story that you know they’re not texting or on Facebook — they’re actually working.”

Doctors and caregivers alike have given positive feedback on the new transition, regardless of their hesitation at first to make the new technological switch, Van Daele said.

“I mean, when the patient’s in the bed, we want to be able to get information communication quickly,” Van Daele said. “In those circumstances, seconds count.”

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