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Case study: Communications-enabled business processes

See how a hospital dramatically improved productivity by using communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) paired with mobile unified communications to automate an outdated system.

In the last column, I defined communications-enabled business processes. In this article, I'll provide a real-life example of a business process that was optimized by enabling it with communications.

I recently interviewed a nurse at a local hospital and got a very practical understanding of how communications streamlined her job. The process improvements were directly attributable to being able to rebuild tasks and automate many of them because of communications-enabled business processes or CEBP.

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In this hospital, the nurses are responsible for providing the first line of care to a number of patients. Patients are attached to various sets of equipment, many of which trigger an alarm when certain conditions are hit. For instance, a heart rate monitor may trigger if the patient's heart rate falls below a certain number. Based on the alarm, the nurse may have to take any number of actions, including checking on the patient, treating the patient, calling a doctor, and so on.

With a non-communications-enabled process, the hospital deploys an individual to a centralized monitoring station, and that person is responsible for monitoring all of the alarms, understanding which patient alarms map to which nurse, then locating the nurse and notifying him or her of the situation. This once meant that the nursing staff always had to be in close proximity, so breaks for lunch or events, even bathroom breaks, had to be tightly coordinated or a patient's life could be at risk.

Also, after diagnosing a problem, if the nurse needed to reach a doctor, the procedure would require a nurse to issue an overhead page to a doctor and then remain by the phone until the page was answered. If the doctor was occupied with a patient or in surgery, the nurse could wind up sitting by the phone for an extended period of time, meaning that other patients might get diminished care. The amount of hands-on human intervention required with this process makes it a very unreliable process that is riffled with points for potential errors.

To combat this problem, the hospital communications-enabled this process by implementing mobile unified communications. Today, all of the patient monitoring systems in this department are tied to the hospital's data network. The nurses carry mobile phones that are tied to the same network. These phones are standard dual-mode phones with basic voice and texting capabilities.

The process has been redesigned with speed of communications and mobility in mind. With CEBP, when a patient's alarm triggers, the nurse is sent an alarm from the system directly to the mobile phone. The nurse can then quickly look at the message and prioritize the severity of the message with all of the other activities on his or her plate and make the best decision as to where to focus energy. And by carrying the device with them, nurses can page doctors or send texts or emails to ask questions without having to be tied to a wired phone in one specific room. This simple step had many benefits for the nursing staff, most notably:

  • Full mobility on and off the current floor. In addition to being able to reach people faster, the nurse no longer needs to currently update the central station as to his or her whereabouts. If someone needs to locate the nurse, a simple call or text message will do. This has allowed the nursing staff to be able to roam the department freely, knowing they can be located easily when necessary. Also, many nurses would skip lunches and breaks for fear that an alarm would trigger while they were away. With the process being communications enabled, nurses will be notified regardless of location, enabling them to take short breaks and grab lunch when needed.
  • Speed of notification. The removal of the centralized individual whose role was to monitor all the alarms, locate the appropriate nurse and then issue a page has significantly reduced the amount of time to get an alarm to a nurse. This part of the process alone could take several minutes and is now done instantaneously. Saving the minutes that would otherwise tick away could mean that patients get the care they need.
  • Greater collaboration. The ability to reach anyone anywhere has created the ability to make ad hoc collaborative groups. Now, several people can be notified simultaneously to join a conference, so the patient receives the best possible care.
The process has been redesigned with speed of communications and mobility in mind.

Overall, adding basic communications to this process has saved an estimated two to three hours per 12-hour shift for the clinicians carrying the devices. In the future, the hospital IT staff would like to add presence capabilities, allowing the hospital staff to make even more informed decisions when trying to reach an individual. The majority of the benefit in this process was created by removing the human latency involved in having a person intercept messages and then relay them after a search is done. The automation of the process has also removed any chance of human error.

In summary, not all organizations will have life-and-death situations as a hospital does, but all organizations do have processes with high degrees of human latency. By applying communications to these processes and automating them, companies can dramatically shorten the amount of time those processes take to complete.

This was last published in November 2009

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