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Like most medical offices, East Albany (GA) Medical Center had problems with communication between the providers and nurses before their re-engineering project. In fact, improving communication was the first task the practice’s re-engineering team tackled. The team decided to try solving the problem by using walkie-talkie headsets to provide two-way communication between nurses and providers.
Ron Malcolm, PA-C, team leader for the redesign project, gives this example of time savings: Imagine that the provider leaves the exam room to go look for the nurse. Meanwhile, the nurse is around the corner making a telephone call. There is an inevitable wait for the provider and the patient.
With the walkie-talkies, the provider merely asks the nurse for whatever he or she needs, without leaving the patient’s side. "Multiply that day in and day out, and the time savings are enormous. The frustration level just melted away," Malcolm says. The process worked so well that the clinic added the front desk person and the records person to the same walkie-talkie frequency. Now, if a patient is coming in late or has any other issues, the front desk can communicate instantaneously with the provider or the nurse. The records person also hears the conversation and can be looking for the chart by the time the conversation is over.
Adjusting to the walkie-talkies was frustrating initially, Malcolm says. "At first, the chatter was truly awful. We learned to minimize the chatter so we were communicating only about the patients," Malcolm says.
The walkie-talkies are not secured lines, so staff are cautioned not to mention specific names or diagnoses. Also, when a provider doesn’t want to be interrupted, he or she can push a button that sends a code that his or her headset is off. Later, the provider can flip the switch to go back on-line.