What Makes a Healthcare Mass Notification System Effective?

Healthcare mass notification systems have the potential to deliver multiple benefits to healthcare facilities. However, in order to be effective and deliver the benefits, the systems must be able to overcome two significant issues – targeted messaging and alert fatigue.

Mass notification systems are communication broadcast tools that can contact large numbers of people simultaneously with minimal effort on the part of the system administrator. In the healthcare industry, healthcare mass notification systems serve the dual purposes of communicating routine messages for events such as inventory counts, and alerting staff, patients, and visitors to emergencies.

In a healthcare environment, it is not ideal for every message to be communicated universally. In the case of routine communications, it is usually the case that messages only need to be sent to certain categories of staff members – for example, if an IT issue affects the availability of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), only staff likely to use EMRs need to be made aware of the situation.

Similarly, in an emergency scenario, alerting everybody to an emergency at the same time can create unnecessary panic among patients and visitors. Not only might an emergency be localized (in which case only those at risk of danger need to be alerted), but it is often advisable to alert staff before alerting patients and visitors so that emergency procedures can be initiated calmly and effectively.

Regulations Affecting Healthcare Mass Notification Systems

Various regulations affect the types of mass notification systems healthcare facilities can use. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates healthcare facilities must be equipped with emergency alert systems suitable for hearing-restricted and sight-restricted patients. The National Fire Protection Association has also had input on the functions of healthcare mass notification systems.

Consequently, systems that rely exclusively on one form of communication (i.e. overhead public address systems) are not compliant with federal laws. Furthermore, systems that use a combination of communication channels need to be carefully thought out to address issues such as disorientated patients stopping to read visual display boards, and patients for whom English is not their first language.

Emergency Alerts

Many healthcare mass notification systems are unsuitable for routine or internal communications, while others – although capable of sending localized alerts – may not be able to stagger the timing of alerts in order that emergency procedures can be initiated calmly and effectively. Finally there is the issue of alert fatigue – an issue responsible for multiple avoidable deaths in hospitals every year.

The Extent of Alert Fatigue in Healthcare Environments

The digitalization of the healthcare industry is estimated to have increased healthcare workers´ exposure to alerts seven-fold in the past ten years. Until 2014, little scientific research had been done to assess the “cognitive load” on healthcare workers; but, following a claim by the Boston Globe that alert fatigue was responsible for more than two hundred avoidable deaths in the previous five years, a study was conducted by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine.

Researchers found that healthcare workers´ in eight UCSF healthcare facilities were exposed to more than two and a half million unique alarms within a 31-day period. They concluded the number was excessive and created an unsafe patient environment because a life-threatening event could easily be missed due to a cognitive overload – pretty much confirming the claims of “death due to alert fatigue” made by the Boston Globe.

The researchers proposed alerts should be tailored to represent the severity of a situation but acknowledged that, due to the different types of healthcare technologies being used, it was an impractical solution. However, whereas it may not be possible to apply tailored alerts to Computerized Provider Order Entry Systems (CPOEs), smart intravenous infusion pumps, and cardiac monitoring devices, it is possible to apply tailored alerts to healthcare mass notification systems.

A Multi-Purpose, Tailored and Practical Mass Notification Solution

Our healthcare mass notification system – Rave Alert – is a multi-purpose solution that has the capability of segmenting databases according to members´ roles, locations and other attributes. It can be used to categorize staff members into groups in order to deliver targeted messages, and has an SMS opt-in/opt-out facility for patients and visitors to be added to the database as they enter or leave the hospital.

As emergency alerts are communicated via a variety of channels (SMS text, voice broadcast, CAP, etc.), Rave Alert fulfils the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and National Fire Protection Association – either as a standalone healthcare mass notification system or as an additional component to an existing emergency alert system. Language preferences can be set by each user, who can also assign unique ringtones to emergency alerts to overcome the issue of alert fatigue.

If you would like to find out more about Rave Alert, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our team of experienced experts will be happy to discuss any existing notification systems in use at your healthcare facility in order to determine the contribution Rave Alert can make to an effective healthcare mass notification system and will offer to organize a free demonstration of our system in action tailored to your specific requirements.