Many world leaders have compared the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to a war. Some people are uneasy with this comparison while others might agree with it to a limited extent.
One Italian professor of economic history recently made the point that “War-economy logic prevails only in the emergency services. Doctors, nurses, and police are ordered where to go and what to do, forced to work extra hours, and prevented from taking holidays, but they are also prioritized in the allocation of essential supplies and funds.”1 The language “allocation of essential supplies” stands out for me.
When I discuss clinical communication in this COVID-19 pandemic, I often draw a comparison between clinicians and soldiers. In a battle, we wouldn’t expect soldiers fighting an enemy to stop, put down their weapons, and remove their protective gear to communicate. And yet, many hospitals put physicians and nurses in a position where they must give up caring for a patient and remove personal protective equipment (PPE) to communicate. In the process, they risk self-contamination and waste PPE.
When a patient has a transmissible infectious disease, clinicians wear gloves so they can touch and feel safely. They wear a face shield so they can see safely. They wear a mask so they can breathe safely. But there has been a missing component: clinicians need to have technology they can use while wearing PPE that allows them to communicate safely without pausing their care for patients and without putting themselves at risk.
Technology that allows clinicians to communicate safely and efficiently – without interrupting patient care and without risking infection – should be part of the “essential supplies” allocated during this COVID-19 health crisis and beyond.
The Vocera Smartbadge is a lightweight, wearable communication device that can be used by issuing voice commands. For example, saying, “OK Vocera, Call COVID Support Team” activates a system intelligent enough to know whom to call, without requiring the nurse to manually scroll through multiple screens to identify the appropriate team members to make contact.
Communication technologies that require handling with proximity to the face, like a phone, increase the risk of transmitting infection, increase burdens on clinicians, and make traditional PPE less effective. Hands-free communication technology can be worn and used beneath medical gowns and snug-fitting masks. By eliminating the need to touch a communication device or hold it to the face and minimizing the number of times a clinician must don and doff PPE, it reduces the risk of contamination to the user and conserves PPE.
One study on contamination of healthcare workers’ mobile phones by epidemic viruses showed that influenza, rotavirus, and norovirus can adhere to and contaminate inert surfaces such as phones. Virus RNA was detected on nearly 40% of the mobile phones of healthcare workers.2
Wearing communication devices beneath PPE reduces the risk of contamination and protects clinicians and their patients. Using hands-free communication devices could reduce PPE changes, creating significant savings in staff time and material costs. In fact, by reducing interruptions that require PPE changes in each of the 6,146 hospitals in the U.S.,3 Vocera technology could save billions of dollars in PPE and wasted time spent donning and doffing PPE.4
We’ve created an eGuide that outlines three strategies hospitals can employ using Vocera technology to minimize the spread of infectious disease. This can be achieved not only by allowing safe, efficient communication, but also by facilitating safe patient flow and safe communication with isolated patients.
As a hospital IT or clinical leader, what are you experiencing? How can we help you manage through this pandemic, and protect and empower your teams? I welcome you to reach out to me on LinkedIn.