Want to improve the patient experience? First you need to fix hospital environment

Improving the quality and quantity of sleep not only improves patient well-being, it also enables patients to heal more quickly, shortening hospital stays.

imageHospitalization can be a challenging experience for many patients and their loved ones. They go to the hospital to be cared for, yet the hospital environment is not always conducive to healing.

Rest can be particularly difficult to obtain in the hospital: Patients are in an unfamiliar place, noise levels are often higher than at home (they are, in fact, often double the World Health Organization’s standard decibel guidelines for patient rooms), and routine care practices, such as early morning blood draws, can significantly impact sleep and sleep patterns. Numerous studies confirm that sleep disruptions are prevalent among inpatients and can be associated with negative health outcomes, including elevated blood pressure and delirium. One patient said it best in a recent healthcare experience survey: “If I can’t rest, I can’t heal.”

Improving the quality and quantity of sleep not only improves patient well-being, it also enables patients to heal more quickly, thereby shortening hospital stays and reducing unnecessary resource expenditure. As healthcare continues to move from volume to value-based care models, considering patient experience and its impact is essential. For the well-being of our patients – as well as the sustainability and enhancement of our hospitals – we must identify and redesign practices that detract from healing, and replace them with patient-centered solutions that hardwire humanity and healing back to the healthcare experience.

Admittedly, this is not an easy task. Alarms and other sounds, vital sign checks, blood draws, and bright lights ex.ist in hospitals for a reason and are all part of the standard of care. Fortunately though, there are industry thought leaders, frontline staff and emerging innovators who are disrupting the status quo and championing the next standard of care to place patients at the center.

Incessant Alarms

Anyone spending time on a hospital floor will quickly notice the constant chirping, beeping, and chiming of a wide variety of alarms. Not only do these sounds disrupt patient sleep, they can also create unnecessary concern and anxiety for patients and their loved ones. While these alarms are in place to help automate patient care, medical monitors can sound if a patient simply moves a certain way, creating an environment of constant interruption. Incessant alarm noise can also impact medical staff well-being and their care delivery. The Joint Commission estimates that 85-99 percent of alarms do not require immediate clinical intervention. Alarm fatigue can quickly cause care teams to become immune to alarm sounds.

Identifying and implementing an efficient alarm-management solution can go a long way toward improving patient safety and experience, as well as helping hospitals address alarm fatigue. An intelligent, integrated solution can enable clinicians to quickly prioritize and respond to critical alarms based on contextual evidence sent directly to their device of choice such as a wearable device, smartphone, tablet or workstation, while providing a quieter atmosphere for patients.
Disruptive Blood Draws

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In the United States alone, hospital inpatients experience needle sticks for blood draws approximately 350 million times annually. Data suggest that half of morning blood collections occur between 3:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. These moments create pain and anxiety for many patients, and can also – as one might imagine – be extremely disruptive to sleep.

Finding ways to make blood draws more tolerable will help patients rest more easily. There are a number of technologies and process changes currently in development to address this need. For patients who already have an IV in place, an FDA-cleared technology developed by Velano Vascular now exists that allows blood to be drawn from the IV with no additional needle sticks. Patients need not be roused from rest with the pain of a needle stick – or fall asleep dreading that early morning blood draw. For the one in 10 patients who are needle-phobic, this benefit can be particularly profound to their overall experience and healing.

Noisy Communication

Overhead paging, which was the first broad communication system used in hospitals, can be particularly disruptive to a patient who is trying to rest. Use of wireless systems, including more advanced communication technology such as smartphones and wearable devices, not only make it easier and faster to connect the right person with the right information, but these mobile devices also reduce overall hospital noise levels, allowing less distractions and presumably more sleep for patients. Eliminating overhead paging is relatively simple solution with today’s technology.

There are too many processes and systems in hospitals today that burden patients, family and staff. Hospitals must map the gaps in their care experiences and identify ways to remove these barriers to create ideal healing and working environments. New standards of care must be designed and innovations must be deployed that enhance patient healing and humanize the healthcare experience.

Bridget Duffy, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, Inc., Co-Founder of ExperiaHealth and the Experience Innovation Network, and an Advisory Board Member at Velano Vascular.

Photo: Flickr

M. Bridget Duffy, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Vocera Communications, Inc., Co-Founder of ExperiaHealth and the Experience Innovation Network, and an Advisory Board Member of Velano Vascular

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