Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals use tech to engage ICU patients

Intensive care units (ICUs) can be pretty intimidating for patients and their families, which can have negative effects on patient recovery. But with the help of technology, some hospitals are taking extra steps to put patients at ease and provide better treatment.

162441469As discussed in an article in the Wall Street Journal, a stay in the ICU can be disorienting to patients. Weakened from illness and overwhelmed by machines, they may feel less like a person and more like a number.

And with the hustle and bustle of intensive care, they may also feel like doctors aren’t paying attention to their preferences for care. While this likely isn’t intentional on the part of providers, patients may feel slighted.

Even worse: Busy providers may miss crucial changes in patients’ vital signs that could lead to complications.

Johns Hopkins Hospital is making strides to avoid this problem by actively working to eliminate conditions that contribute to patient harm in the ICU. Through a new initiative, Project Emerge, clinicians are using the hospital’s electronic health records (EHR) system and other monitoring equipment not only to keep tabs on patients’ conditions in the surgical ICU, but to track whether key care processes have been completed.

The EHR system alerts providers if patients are at risk of being harmed in some way (example: receiving too much sedation before a procedure). Alerts are color coded. Red means providers need to act ASAP to prevent patient harms. Yellow means a key step to avoid harm must be completed soon, and green means all tasks are completed.

The alerts are designed based on information from surgical checklists that have the appropriate steps and practices to achieve the best patient outcomes.

Tackling one big risk

The clinical team at Johns Hopkins also includes “lack of respect” on its list of patient harms. If patients don’t feel like they’re respected by their doctors, they’re more hesitant to speak up if they feel something’s “off” about their care.

To break down that barrier, the hospital is providing ICU patients and their families with tablets designed to help them communicate their care preferences and questions to clinicians. The tablets connect to a special patient portal that has information about everything from the machines in each room to how family members can be more hands-on with patient care.

ICU clinicians use the information recorded on the tablet to discuss the care plan with patients and their families.

Tablets & patient engagement

Another facility that has used tablets to help improve patient care in the ICU is Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The hospital uses its portal, the Patient-Centered Toolkit, to give patients and their families access to the clinician’s plan of care. They’re also able to access information about their diagnoses and medications, as well as the results of any lab tests.

And just like at Johns Hopkins, patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital can ask their doctors questions using the tablets.

Besides providing patients with information about their care and the facility, some hospitals even use tablets to give patients a quick rundown of the clinicians who will treat them during their hospital stay, complete with a short biography of each.

Knowledge like this can turn patients from passive, disoriented “victims” into engaged participants in their own care.

Where to begin

Using the health information stored in your hospital’s EHR to improve patient outcomes is a good start. But putting information patients and their families need about treatments onto tablets can help make the ICU experience less frightening and disconcerting. That can boost patient outcomes overall – and it can also improve patient satisfaction scores.

But even if your hospital doesn’t have the budget for this technology just yet, going the extra mile to give patients some extra details about the ICU experience can work wonders. Creating a “cheat sheet” with information about machines and monitors, along with some short biographies of members of the care team, may make patients feel less overwhelmed by the experience.

And although tablets can facilitate communication between providers and patients, they aren’t absolutely necessary. Building a culture where patient communication matters is key. Train clinicians to respect the views of patients and their families, and give clear and concise answers to questions.

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