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Effective Communication in Integrated Health Systems

Integrated health systems are a network of healthcare facilities that operate under a single holding company or larger healthcare system. Integrated health systems can comprise several different hospitals, health clinics, and large numbers of physicians and caregivers.

The main aim of integrated health systems is to provide all medical services patients and their families are likely to require, through a network of different facilities and providers to ensure patients get the care they need, when they need it.

There are several important benefits to forming integrated health systems. While it is certainly not a low-cost exercise, hospitals, physician groups and clinics can benefit greatly from joining forces. A larger healthcare system can adapt more easily to a changing healthcare environment, with size comes greater financial security, and integrating smaller providers allows healthcare organizations to increase their market share. The reorganization required to form integrated health systems is considerable, as is the cost, but the potential return on investment can be significant.

Good Communication Systems are Essential in Integrated Health Systems

Ensuring good communication across different parts of the system can be a major challenge. It can be a major challenge ensuring effective and efficient communication in a single hospital, let alone a network of diverse care facilities spanning several different counties or even states. All components of the system must be seamlessly connected in order for patient care to be effectively coordinated and for the full benefits of integration to be realized.

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All facilities can be provided with access to the same electronic health record system (EHR) to ensure patient information can easily accessed regardless of the facility visited by a patient. While the transition to EHRs has improved access to patient information, without an effective communication system patient care is likely to suffer.

Effective Communication and Collaboration in Integrated Health Systems

Reliance on landlines, pagers, faxes and email does not make for efficient communication. There will be inevitable delays caused by these outdated communication methods, which are experienced within single hospitals and even more so between different care facilities.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) in Alaska has overcome the challenges of communication in its network of 50 remote clinics and a single hospital by adopting a healthcare communication and collaboration platform and replacing pagers and faxes.

Prior to adopting the system, health aides in the remote clinics struggled to connect with specialists and physicians at the hospital, which was often a time-consuming process. Contact was made with an operator, a manual check was performed to find an appropriate on-call physician, a phone call would be made, and, more often than not, it would go to voicemail. Voicemails were often lost and there were considerable delays consulting physicians. Information was also frequently lost when trying to obtain necessary medications and arranging transfers, all caused by the inefficient communication system.

After implementing the TigerConnect clinical communication and collaboration solution and integrating it into the YKHC scheduling system, contact could easily be made with an on-call physician by selecting the required role, and messages were automatically routed to the correct, on-call specialist or physician and message accountability ensured fast responses were received.

The ability to share images and have video chats allowed significant savings to be made on unnecessary medivacs, with many patients able to be treated in local clinics rather than being transported to the hospital. The system greatly improved the patient experience, ensured patients could be provided with better care, and patient outcomes were improved while making significant cost savings.