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Staff Communications Going High-Tech

January 29, 2016

Kansas City, Kan. — In coming months, more physicians and other caregivers at The University of Kansas Hospital will be pulling out their smartphones and tapping away.

Don't think they're texting friends or checking Facebook. It's part of the hospital's new communication system, which will connect thousands of providers, nurses, respiratory therapists and other staff.

Called Voalte (rhymes with "bolt"), the system is one of the most advanced in the nation for hospitals, according to staff who have spent four years testing and planning its rollout here. The test included a yearlong pilot on the hospital's Neuroscience/ENT Progressive Care Unit.

"During the pilot, we learned Voalte can make a big difference in responsiveness, which in turn increases patient satisfaction," said project manager Drew Rush. In fact, staff who piloted Voalte saw patient call response time improve (decrease) by 24 seconds.

With Voalte, nurses and other caregivers make voice calls, send secure text messages and manage physiological alerts – which are sent by devices at the patient's bedside – on a single device. They can even respond to patients directly through patients' "pillow speakers" after receiving a notification from their call light.

Physicians also reported they found it helpful making peer-to-peer communication in an efficient and HIPAA-compliant manner.

That security is key to the system. "Because Voalte protects private information via a secure server," said Linda Nagel, the hospital's operations capital projects manager, "the clinician can be specific via text message, and the person receiving the message can see the patient's needs immediately and respond as necessary."

The Voalte system consists of a smartphone app, a proprietary device and a desktop-based messenger. Rollout starts in February and spans 18 months. When it's complete, about 90 percent of the hospital's bedside staff, including those who work at cancer center locations, will use it.

The new system will replace a blend of other phone systems and, eventually, even those ubiquitous pagers. Christy Bartlett, RN, who was part of the pilot, is eager to see Voalte put to use hospital-wide. "It's really increased communication among staff members," she said, "and it allows us to expedite care to our patients."

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