Mater ED pilots hands-free communication

A Wi-Fi-enabled, voice-activation badge, which can be worn under PPE, connects healthcare professionals directly

The Emergency Department (ED) at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin has become the first public hospital to pilot a voice-activated system to enable hands-free communication for emergency teams during the pandemic, writes Valerie Ryan.

A Wi-Fi-enabled, hands-free, voice-activation badge, which can be worn under personal protective equipment (PPE), connects healthcare professionals directly, allowing two-way communication.

Calls can be made to a specific doctor, nurse, or other healthcare staff on the system by name, or contact can be made instead to a named role, such as ‘Call ED Doctor’. Information can also be broadcast to a team, ‘Broadcast Trauma Team’.

Dr Fran O’Keeffe, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, and colleague, Clinical Nurse Manager Caoimhe Fitzsimons have been leading the innovation, which has been rolled-out as a pilot project.

Phase one has been introduced across multiple disciplines in the ED Covid-19 Zones, ED Radiology, Patient Flow, Porters and among Site Nurse Managers to assist with ease of communication during the pandemic, particularly while wearing PPE.

“We are able to contact one another very simply. You could call ‘Red Zone Doctor’, or call ‘Red Zone Nurse’, and it goes straight through to them.

“We are the first public hospital in the country to be using it. We are the pilot site for it in Ireland and we have 40 badges across the ED, and are also using it with patient flow, who are based upstairs in the hospital, and ED radiology as well,” said Dr O’Keeffe.

Explaining how the communications badges work, Dr O’Keeffe said he takes the badge at the start of a shift and logs in under his name.

Users had to meet a range of registration and other criteria to go on the system. He said: “You can’t just pick up the badge. You couldn’t just come in and start using it you have to log in.”

While he logs in under his name, he also adds himself to certain named groups, and named roles that the system has been specially set up to recognise in the Mater Hospital.

About three months’ preparation went into setting up the system, largely carried out on Zoom, with Dr O’Keeffe taking care of the medical requirements and Fitzsimons looking after the nursing needs and working with IT. The Mater has also benefited from the experience of the Ulster Hospital in Northern Ireland which has been using the system for many years.

“We partnered up with the Ulster Hospital in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Belfast. They have been using it for about 10 years. They have 2,000 badges in circulation and over 5,000 users and use it across three different hospitals.

“They can put their own sites on their Wi-Fi. It doesn’t matter where you are; it’s the same Wi-Fi. They can contact each other across the city or across different sites in the Trust.”

Dr O’Keeffe highlighted a major advantage to the system which was that you could contact a named person or else a named role. “You don’t necessarily have to know who is doing the role.”

Only a person making a call needs to press a button. The person receiving the call hears a “ping”. They are asked if they can accept the call. Their voice activates the device and the ED staff have found this works effectively, regardless of PPE.

“If you were in the middle of something like, resuscitation, and you have got your hands tied, wherever you are, you don’t need to do anything,” added Dr O’Keeffe.

The system also allows a direct communication to a named team of people. All the people wearing the badge, logged in, for example as, ‘Trauma Team’, will hear a call at the same time.

He said: “I can say, ’46-year-old male coming in, hypotensive, tachycardiac, unwell and his ETA is 10 minutes’. But they can ask me questions if they want. It opens up that channel.”

Other features, such as recorded reminders for certain groups, have been used in the department. A reminder for a 4pm handover for doctors, or nursing staff can set a reminder for tasks, which could be something like, “neuro obs every 15 minutes for the next two hours”.

Dr O’Keeffe stressed the collective effort which had gone into rolling out the system.

He summarised his response to the changeover as a question: “How could we ever go back?”

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