Years ago, when I was a registered nurse in a Florida hospital, we had a patient who’d been in a car accident. He was in halo-traction, a stabilizing unit intended to keep him from turning his neck. Turning his neck could have caused permanent neurological problems.
I had a history as a trauma nurse and was asked to take the patient for the afternoon shift. I went in and greeted him. When I asked him how he was doing he said, “Fine,” as he turned his head to the left.
I put sandbags on either side of his head and proceeded for the next 12 hours to try to find the physician. This was before cell phones; we had pagers, and the physician wasn’t answering his.
The good news is that the next day the patient went back to surgery and his halo was stabilized. But what concerned me as much as anything else was that it took me so long to get in touch with the doctor. The communication breakdown had put the physician, the hospital, me, and the patient at risk.
I’d experienced this type of breakdown challenge before, but this incident was the tipping point that made me think, I want to change this somehow. I wanted to find a way to fix this problem to improve care and reduce risk.
From then on, I chose career pathways that would lead me toward making a difference in this area.
My transition from bedside care to business
First I needed to learn how to manage the business of healthcare. I went to work for a company that taught nurses how to sell, position, and market specialty beds used to help heal bed sores. It was a consultative sale; I had to build relationships with clinicians and help them understand the value the beds could bring in preventing infection and saving lives.
I cut my teeth there.
In the 1980s when computers became common in healthcare systems, I found a software company that offered a character-cell based order management and department-automation electronic health record (EHR) system. It was the precursor to modern electronic health records. I approached them and said, “I think you need a nurse to help you talk to the clinical buyers in a language that they understand, and I’m the one to do it.” They told me, “Okay, we’ll try you out.” This was my first role where I was able to affect communication among care teams.
The company’s system facilitated communication between a unit secretary entering an order, and the ancillary department that needed to implement the order. In the past, to send even a STAT or routine lab request took many phone calls and coordination steps. The system facilitated what seemed to be “automagic” order entry and processing which had a huge impact on work flow and communication. My role was to show clinicians, administrators, and unit staff the value of these systems and how they could positively affect their work.
When personal computers came out, our company put a graphical user interface on a character-cell-based system. To better understand the operation of these system user interfaces, I bought a PC and taught myself how to use it. I then taught the marketing and sales support teams how to use it to demonstrate the software. Entry of clinical data and orders was much easier on a PC.
Shortly thereafter I discovered a system built on Windows NT that originated with a company out of Paris. It was automatically charting the delivery of fluids, ventilator readings, and vital signs to an electronic flow sheet. This meant that nurses didn’t have to enter the data, and physicians could easily see the values that were entered into the patient record in near real time. Physicians could do this from the office or even from home. This system charted more than a million data points in a day and made them immediately available to doctors and nurses so they could have a more informed conversation.
In this innovation I saw another career opportunity to improve communication; I helped the company bring the software to the United States. We expanded to add the same kinds of capabilities in anesthesia, the emergency department, and the operating room.
Just as software technology was evolving, so too was computer networking technology. I was recruited by a company that offered a unique way of using video over computer networks. They said, “We want you to come help run our solution development and marketing for healthcare.”
This company was an innovator with a technology called telepresence which enabled the sensation of being in the same room with somebody who could be thousands of miles away. I recognized that it could dramatically improve the way clinicians and patients communicate – because when you’re assessing patients, you need to see them.
I went to work for this company because I saw an opportunity to use video in a tele-health strategy that could change the way clinicians were communicating with patients and with each other. The company was happy with what I helped them do for healthcare, and they asked me to lead marketing focused on a variety of industries. I learned new aspects of marketing and other technology areas such as data center.
The whole time I was at this company, I’d been keeping an eye on Vocera and monitoring the evolution in the use of technology for healthcare delivery. My passion continued to bring me back to the healthcare industry. One day, I saw that Vocera was looking for a vice president of marketing. I decided to call Brent Lang, the CEO, and ask him if he’d be interested in bringing me on.
When I interviewed, I heard about all the company’s technology advancements and expansion to smart phone applications. I heard stories about how the company’s solutions were making it easier for care teams to communicate and collaborate, and the impact that’s had on patient lives. I met the folks in the company’s Experience Innovation Network, who do a lot of work with hospital experience officers and executives to help transform staff and patient experiences.
As Vocera’ new VP of Marketing, I’m passionate about sharing stories on how our customers are positively transforming care delivery through the use of communication solutions. Seeing how our customers bring care teams, patients, and families together in a timely and collaborative way gets me back to what it’s all about – healing and making a difference.
I told Brent during my interview that joining Vocera was like coming home because I finally had a way to make a difference in the situation that led to my tipping point so many years ago in that hospital in Florida.
Our customers are doing amazing things
At Vocera, we’re making a difference in healthcare delivery all over the world. We’re making life better for patients and for the people who take care of them. We enable the right people to connect at the right time with the right intervention. Think of the well-known “golden hour” in which timely intervention with a critically ill patient sooner has been shown to lead to better patient outcomes. In the same way, timely, accurate communication has been shown to lead to better patient outcomes.
For me, working in marketing is not about a “market”. It’s about the people who are using our solutions. It’s about the doctors, the nurses, the environmental services teams, security folks, and in many cases, the families. Within my first 100 days at Vocera, I had the pleasure of seeing individuals representing three Vocera customers receive awards that embody the values that are so important to me.
Poonam Erry, EVS Manager at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, AND Phuong Hathaway, Patient Experience Supervisor at San Mateo Medical Center were among six leaders who received an Excellence in Healthcare Award at the Health Tech: Wearable Technology and Digital Healthcare event on June 10 in Campbell, CA.
Twelve days later, the San Francisco Business Times and Silicon Valley Business Journal presented the 2016 Bay Area CIO of the Year Awards in Redwood City. Among the winners was El Camino Hospital CIO Greg Walton, who was named the 2016 Community Champion Winner.
I met Poonam Erry at the awards ceremony and she talked about the work that she had done to help improve patient flow and prevent backlogs in critical areas such as the emergency department. Receiving her reward, she was brought to tears. She was overwhelmed with the recognition of the good work that she’s done at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which in turn made me proud.
Phuong Hathaway had a huge influence on the way care is delivered at San Mateo Medical Center. She developed a program called WE CARE, creating a formalized process around what should be done. Her program is designed to make patients feel welcomed and appreciated, to make sure they understand what is going to happen, and make sure their needs are understood.
I already knew Greg Walton; I met him when I worked for the company I was at before I joined Vocera. Back then, he talked about how to create innovative solutions that could make the experience of the nurses and the patients the best it could possibly be. He has always focused on that as his mission, not necessarily on bringing the technology in. I was thrilled to see that he implemented Vocera Care Rounds at El Camino Hospital because it delivered on what we’d talked about so many years earlier.
In all these years, I’ve stayed true to my passion of caring for people and finding new ways to help solve for the challenges in care team communication. Making this happen with technology that helps clinicians do what they were trained to do – take care of patients and families – is why I came “home” to Vocera. Providing solutions that solve problems and allow our healthcare system deliver better outcomes is what it is all about.