Secure smartphone app allows Niagara Health physicians to communicate key patient information
By Melissa Raftis
When most of us want to get a hold of someone quickly, we pull out our smartphones and send a text message. In healthcare, however, communication becomes more complicated. That’s why Niagara Health has become one of the first hospitals in Canada to adopt a new app for physicians, which makes it faster and more secure for them to communicate with one another on their personal devices.
Working with IBM and Vocera Communications, Inc., Niagara Health designed and deployed an innovative smartphone app called qConnect that allows our physicians to instant message each other through their own phones.
Jeff Wilson, Niagara Health’s Director of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), says doctors can now share test results and other key patient-related information with the click of the send button, ultimately resulting in more timely care for patients.
“Streamlining the communications between physicians and nurses and ward clerks ultimately does impact patient care because the turnaround times are reduced,” says Mr. Wilson. “It’s about helping our physicians be more efficient and more effective because every step we can take to reduce seconds or minutes communicating can make a huge difference for our patients.”
The use of pagers has been the mainstay of communication for doctors in hospitals since the 1980s, says Dr. Rafi Setrak, Niagara Health Chief of Emergency Medicine and clinical lead for the qConnect project. Unlike a paging system, qConnect lets the user know when a message has been sent, received and read by the correct person in one easy step. It also includes built-in contact lists, which allow users to reach the on-call physician without having to know who is on call.
“It’s more efficient than regular texting because if you’re going to text or email you need to know the person’s contact information,” says Dr. Setrak. “With qConnect you don’t because those contacts are already built into the system.”
Most importantly, the information shared is secure as it is stored on servers housed on Niagara Health property, says Tammy Chaput, Niagara Health Information and Communications Technology Project Manager.
“Because we house all of our own servers, everything that is shared in this app stays behind Niagara Health’s firewall,” says Ms. Chaput. “Doctors can now send patient information like diagnoses and X-rays to each other through their own smartphones without risking a breach in patient privacy.”
Niagara Health’s ICT department worked with the hospital’s doctors to customize the app to specifically meet their communication needs.
“Because this is a two-way texting solution with multimedia capabilities, it opens so many new doors for communication,” says Dr. Setrak. “A heart monitor from the Critical Care Unit could forward the patient’s rhythm right to the cardiologist’s cellphone, for example. The possibilities are endless. We’re just starting to scratch the surface.”
Other hospitals in Ontario are now looking to Niagara Health to see how they can implement similar leading-edge communication technology.
Melissa Raftis is a Communications Specialist at Niagara Health.