Radios improve EDs’ efficiency and safety

Do you want to dramatically improve ED communication? Try this innovative idea: two-way radios.

The ED at the Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center in Johnson City, NY, sees approximately 55,000 patients a year. Wilson Memorial has a Level 2 trauma center and an inner-city ED, says Ken DeMott, RN, MS, CEN, ED nurse manager.

"There are some geographically isolated areas in our Level 2 trauma center," he points out. For example, he notes, the triage area is located off the main core.

The weakness of this setup became apparent with the institution of decontamination training equipment and teams following 9-11, DeMott recalls. "On the first drill, it was very convoluted," he says. "Patients came in, were triaged, then decontaminated in the hot zone, and it pretty much left the charge nurse inside blind to what was going on."

With 20 years’ service in the U.S. Navy behind him, DeMott was more than familiar with the importance of radio communications.

"I went to the bosses and bought several Motorola two-way radio systems." The radios, which cost about $800 each, were given to the triage nurse, the trauma nurse, the side B nurse (trauma is side A; side B is for activities such as suturing), and a unit assistant who predominantly does EKGs.

"We found it to be very effective in moving patients through," says DeMott. "The triage nurse gets on and says, I have a chest pain.’ A voice replies, We have bed 14 open.’ An EKG is requested for bed 14, and the tech comes on the same channel and says, I copy.’"

Subsequently, the emergency management coordinator obtained a scanner for DeMott, which enables him to listen in from his office. "I can listen to EMS communicating and keep a pretty good handle on things," he says.

One potential drawback with two-way radios, notes DeMott, is that you need to be extremely cognizant of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. "We do not use any patient identifiers," he adds.

The system, he says, "has gathered a life of its own," The staff working in X-ray, computed tomography, and computed axial tomography scans all have radios now. "We liked it so much we ended up getting radios for all the ED staff," DeMott notes.