It’s almost always been possible for patients, family members and clinicians to find needed information in a healthcare setting — it just sometimes requires a little searching and usually a lot of waiting. But that is changing rapidly, thanks to the proliferation of innovative visual solutions.
Visual solutions often push out much needed information directly and immediately to those who need it — when they need it. That can include captive audiences in waiting areas, cafeterias and common areas or those in need of information as they hurriedly navigate throughout the hospital facility.
These solutions rely on advances in networking, mobility, software applications, touch technologies and high-definition displays to help hospitals communicate with a variety of audiences. They can also be part of a holistic marketing effort, offering dynamic, easily updated and affordable ways to serve the community.
Keeping Patients Informed and Up to Date
Visual solutions represent a broad category of display technologies that can be defined as any mechanism that increases the visibility, timeliness or efficacy of clinical, patient or logistical data.
“It’s all related to improving cost, quality and access,” says Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO of the eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit organization promoting improvement in healthcare. She notes that people nowadays want to get needed information on their own time, having gotten used to, for instance, absorbing details about flight schedules via airport displays or using a self-service kiosk to check into a hotel or purchase movie tickets.
While the message is the key ingredient in visual solutions, the “messenger” can take various forms. They include the following: digital signage displays, self-service kiosks, bedside infotainment and mobile devices.
Digital Signage in Healthcare
Hospitals and physician offices have long provided static information and entertainment via paper signs, whiteboards, monitors and cable television, most prominently in patient waiting rooms.
More recently, digital signage applications for healthcare organizations have hit the market. Easily integrated with hospital information systems and networks, these software programs provide the ability to pull all manner of patient, clinical and educational information, from trusted external and internal sources, and then push it out to various visual mediums – usually large-size displays – but also clinician devices like smartphones and tablets.
This breakthrough is occurring at the same time that high-definition video displays are becoming less expensive, higher in quality and more durable, according to Stan Swiderski, business development manager for medical and professional displays at NEC Displays. These displays are also thinner and lighter, making them easy to mount almost anywhere,
Alan C. Brawn, a principal of Brawn Consulting, agrees noting that digital signage combined with visual displays adds up to extreme impact and user engagement. “A viewer is 10 times more likely to pay attention to a digital sign than a static sign,” he says.
Digital signage software offers a lot of built-in functionality and templates, but it’s also highly customizable. That means healthcare organizations are limited only by their imagination in terms of what type of information and applications they want to offer.
The possibilities include:
- Patient tracking: It enables patients to see where they are in the queue as they sit in a busy waiting room or for family members of a surgery patient to know immediately when their loved one (identified by a unique number or moniker rather than name) has arrived in pre-op, gone into surgery and then moved into recovery.
- Wayfinding: This functionality provides options such as 3D maps, step-by-step directions and marked pathways to offer sometimes grief-stricken or stressed patients and family members the ability to navigate what is frequently a confusing maze of hallways and buildings.
- Better patient and colleague consultations: Clinicians can quickly show lab results and radiology reports, including X-rays and sonograms, on large, high-quality video displays located in exam rooms and other convenient locations.
- Better patient education: Cargivers can show videos and presentations to patients that explain diseases, treatments and surgery procedures. Clinicans can also use step-by-step video directions or other illustrations to go over follow-up care and medication instructions.
- Patient channels: Hospitals can offer not just traditional cable television programming but also food menus, health tips, rights and responsibilities, inspiration and motivational messages, plus community news and happenings.
- Hospital news and events- This can include everything from support group schedules to special-of-the-day items at the cafeteria to emergency instructions and procedures — information that can be changed or updated in real time.
The Rise of Self-Service Kiosks
These stand-alone hardware devices offer some similarities to digital signage displays but they tend to be a bit more private and individualized. A key enabler, says Brawn, is the kiosk’s interactive touch screen, “making it much more intuitive. People are now ‘programmed’ or more kindly predisposed to interact with their devices.”
Healthcare organizations currently use self-service kiosks for:
- Patient registration and check-in, including the ability to input and verify insurance information, electronically sign documents and process payments using a credit or debit card
- Staff and clinician directories and biographies
- Patient education, especially the provision of detailed instructions on post-treatment and post-operative care and medication management
- Vital sign measurement, such as heart rate, pulse and blood pressure
- Hospital news and promotions
- Wayfinding, including the ability to print out step-by-step directions and maps
Bordenick notes self-service kiosks offer three additional benefits over staff members and volunteers. For starters, they operate 24x7. “They don’t go to lunch or knock off at 5 p.m.,” she says.
Secondly, kiosk information can be provided in any number of languages. This helps hospitals serve increasingly diverse patient populations while relying on their staff interpreters for more critical tasks.
And finally, kiosks can deliver healthcare information in locations other than a hospital or doctor’s office. As an example, several major drugstore chains are now offering kiosks to help educate patients on medication and disease management and healthy living choices.
The All-in-One Bedside Infotainment Solution
These relatively new systems offer patients a streamlined, adjustable, easy-to-operate, all-in-one television, phone, web-surfing, entertainment, nurse communication and meal-ordering device.
More importantly, bedside infotainment terminals are integrated with the hospital’s information systems and databases. That means caregivers can use them while interacting with patients at the point of care.
Meeting the Demands of Mobile Medicine
Hospitals and healthcare organizations are embracing the new mobile trend by installing wireless networks and providing clinicians with notebook and tablet computers. As a result, caregivers are equipped with on-the-go and at-their-fingertips access to electronic patient records, lab results, documentation and communication capabilities.
With mobile tools, a physician can, among other things, order a prescription or test while face-to-face with a patient, show a patient their test results or X-ray on the device, hold a conference with a patient and a specialist over secure video, and research medication and treatment options while sitting in the doctor’s lounge or outside after rounds.
Nurses, meanwhile, can use their notebooks or tablets to enter patient vitals, educate patients or go over post-admission instructions.
Other factors adding to the benefits of clinician mobility include: an increasing crop of tablet and smartphone applications that rely on cameras, 3D visualization, simulation and other advances to aid in diagnoses and enable better patient education, clinician education and consultations.