Voice Recording Technology Improves Patient Handoff Process

Patient Safety Monitor (Briefings on Patient Safety) , February 9, 2010

When Kathleen Mikos, RN, MSN, CNO and vice president of patient care, came to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, IL, she couldn't shake the sense of déjà vu when she found that patient handoffs took an hour to 90 minutes to complete.

At her previous hospital, Mikos had dealt with a similar issue—performing patient handoffs took longer than it should have. The lengthy amount of time became an issue with incremental overtime and also got in the way of patient care.

"I was concerned because during a period of an hour, where so many nurses are tied up, who is taking care of the patients?" says Mikos.

Drawing on her past experience, in May 2008 Mikos began to develop a new, efficient method for patient handoffs that allowed for more patient-nurse interaction and reduced nurse overtime at Ingalls.

The old and the new
For years, nurses nationwide have used different methods for handling handoff reports. One technology was the use of taped records. This caused problems because if an interruption occurred while the nurse was reporting, the nurse had to make a note on the recorder where the tape left off, causing confusion later on.

There were also instances when the tape recorder broke or someone had recorded over a report, causing the nurses to take more time to rerecord each patient report.

More recently, nurse-to-nurse interaction between shifts is how patient handoffs are handled. As the nightshift is coming on and the day shift is leaving, and vice versa, the nurses discuss each patient and how the shift went.

Although effective, this process takes a lot of time, and many nurses go into overtime.

"Between shifts, I can have up to 20 nurses tied up," says Mikos. "Having that many nurses tied up, trying to get reports, cuts into the patient care."

Much of the delay occurred because not all nurses shared the same patients. Mikos turned to The White Stone Group, Inc., for a technological solution to facilitate a new handoff process. This company provides healthcare organizations with software to help improve the management of healthcare communication events.

Having had experience with The White Stone Group in the past, Mikos was confident in setting up OptiVox, a voice technology program for handoffs, and made the program accessible to all staff members through any telephone in the hospital system.

Other similar programs that facilitate the patient handoff process include the PatientKeeper Sign-Out technology and Vocera's communication systems. Physicians use the PatientKeeper program as a continuity of care tool and enter patient care details that the next shift's physician will need. Vocera's wireless devices enable instant communication among staff members.

Voice technology OptiVox
OptiVox is a computer-based voice platform technology that is built into the phone system, says Mikos. Nurses can dial into OptiVox and record their patient reports or listen to the patient reports from any phone in the health system.

Nurses coming off a shift and needing to report on their patients dial in an individual access code, pull up each patient's medical record number, and begin recording a report on that patient.

In addition to using OptiVox to record their reports, the nurses are also encouraged to use the SBAR format. The SBAR technique helps guide communication between staff members on a patient's condition.

To identify each patient in the system, Ingalls uses the patient's medical record number to prevent confusion, says Mikos.

"You are always up against potential patient safety issues, and some patients may have the same name or date of birth, but medical record numbers are always going to be unique," says Mikos.

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