University of Maryland (UM) Prince George’s Hospital Center is an acute care teaching hospital and regional referral center serving the citizens of Prince George’s County and the surrounding area. The organization’s mission is to provide high-quality, accessible health care services in partnership with the community, and its ability to communicate quickly and effectively plays a crucial role in that mission.

Dawn Cole, director of communication and visiting information, dedicated herself to finding a more efficient method for staff communication. Every time her team deployed a critical patient code, the contact center team had to follow a cumbersome, multistep code protocol involving several applications. The process lacked a method of enforcing staff accountability when it came to who had received and responded to alerts. In addition, Cole needed to enhance overall clinical staff communications while remaining HIPAA-compliant and improving the patient experience.

The health system had been using Spok Care Connect solutions from Spok Inc., Springfield, Va., for its operator console, web directory and on-call scheduling for years and wanted to explore additional capabilities. “I found myself wondering what else this system could do for us,” Cole says. 

After discussing her challenges with the solutions provider, Cole realized the Spok e.Notify emergency notification system and Spok Mobile secure texting application would enable the team to amp up staff communications and code deployment, improving patient care.

The contact center now uses Spok e.Notify to quickly deploy Code Blues (cardiac arrest), Code STEMIs (heart attack) and Code Strokes, as well as security codes for fires, bomb threats and active shooters.

“I like that the system keeps the data, and we can see who didn’t respond,” Cole says of the accountability and tracking features. “Our emergency preparedness team also uses it to send alerts for citywide disaster codes such as bad weather conditions.”

Recently, the team added Code Surge Red and Code Surge Black processes. These codes enable the organization to monitor the number of patients in the emergency room at all times, with red indicating an influx of patients and black for when they’re at capacity and may need to divert patients.

These improved emergency notification capabilities integrate with Spok Mobile, and both pull from the Spok Care Connect web directory and on-call system for contact and schedule information. The organization has 200 Spok Mobile licenses thus far.

“Caregivers use Spok Mobile to communicate about patient enrollment and discharge,” Cole says. “With secure messaging in place, they can now be more specific and add patient information to give the message context.” She adds that care teams also use Spok Mobile to share images of patients’ X-ray results. While this method isn’t used for an official diagnosis, it helps get the ball rolling quickly when further analysis is needed to determine treatment.

As a teaching hospital, UM Prince George’s Hospital Center welcomes a new group of residents each year who use Spok Mobile to communicate with attending physicians. “Residents are tech savvy and expect to use this kind of technology,” Cole says. “We use secure texting to supplement face-to-face communication, but not replace it.”

Since implementing the new solutions, the center has reduced the time to deploy critical codes by 50 percent. Cole says everyone at the center has been happy with the results. Departments such as nursing and case management will be onboarding soon, too. The goal is to have more areas of the hospital using Spok Mobile to ultimately increase organizationwide awareness of emerging situations through better communication.

“We’re getting codes out in half the time it used to take,” Cole says. “Spok has made our team a lot more efficient and effective, especially when it comes to accountability.” 

In addition, physicians are now able to respond more quickly to patient-related questions from residents, enhancing staff communications and patient interaction. Clinicians can easily reach one another for final discharge instructions and comply with HIPAA at the same time.