This month, Vocera® celebrates our 20th year as a company.
A few months before we were founded, the U.S. Institute of Medicine issued the report, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. This report raised awareness of the impact of human error on patient safety.
A common mindset in response to To Err Is Human was that the answer to the problem of humans making all these medical errors would be to replace the human aspect of patient care with more technology.
Using more health information technology has not solved the problem. And in some respects, it’s made the problem worse.
A joint investigation by Fortune and Kaiser Health News enumerates ways health information technology can put patients at risk. It illustrates the perils of siloed electronic health record (EHR) systems, the reality that 85 to 99% of medical device alerts and alarms are false alerts, the contribution of health information technology to medication errors, and more.
Far too many medical errors are still occurring that could be prevented by using processes, procedures, and technologies in ways that allow more effective interaction between people and systems.
That, to me, is the “aha” at this 20-year milestone.
In my view, the problem isn’t technology. The problem is how technology is designed and used. Healthcare as an industry must step back and create the right synergy between the human role and technology role in order to deliver better patient care and improve patient safety.
Consider the transition that has occurred for nurses.
The interaction between a nurse and patient used to be more human. A nurse’s actions would be initiated by the nurse entering a patient’s room and using his or her senses to evaluate the patient’s status. The insightful wisdom often called “nurse’s intuition” can often detect conditions that even physiologic monitors do not pick up. A nurse can observe the pallor of skin, hear pain in a voice, smell the indication of diabetes, feel the weakening of a pulse.
Today, a nurse’s actions are more likely to be initiated by information supplied by technology – the EHR, or a physiologic monitor, or a nurse-call system for example. At Vocera, we’re trying to use health information technology to allow more connection between clinicians and patients. We want nurses and doctors to be able to tune their senses more to patients than to technology.
We began as a communications company, making it easier for people to talk to each other, especially where urgency matters. Some of the technologies we originally embraced, like wireless and speech recognition, are now becoming mainstream.
Over the last 20 years, the use of speech recognition has evolved tremendously. People’s willingness to use speech as a user interface has become much more common with technology like Alexa and Siri.
There’s an intimacy associated with using your voice that creates a more personal connection. Users of the Vocera Smartbadge and Vocera Badge often describe feeling like they’re having a direct, almost face-to-face conversation with someone who is in a different part of the building or the state.
Being able to simply say “Hey Vocera” or touch a button, and then say a name or role to be connected to the right person saves valuable time. It’s a sharp contrast to the legacy approach of remembering who is on call then dialing a number or texting a message.
We’ve broadened our vision of where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to achieve. We’ve evolved to a focus on intelligent clinical workflow, getting the right data to the right person, and managing delivery of alert and alarm notifications. We’re helping hospitals become real-time health systems through workflow intelligence and integration of our communication platform with clinical and operational systems.
We exist for hospitals that want to make it easier for clinicians to connect, collaborate, and stay focused on patients and critical patient-care tasks to help keep patients safe.
It’s been 20 years since we became a company and since To Err Is Human was released. Yet, too many hospitals are still using legacy health information technology for clinical communication and workflow, and too many medical errors are still occurring. We need to remain diligent and continue to innovate because there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done.
We’re just getting started.