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Integrating unit clerks with clinical communication

Hospital unit clerks may not be widely known, but they perform essential administrative duties at every hospital. They are trained professionals who are responsible for coordinating all functions of a hospital unit, from relaying information to the ED from paramedics arriving with a patient, to generating discharge orders and working with patients to schedule support services.

As one blog puts it, “The unit clerk is expected to have all the answers, know where everyone is at all times, and to anticipate the needs of staff and patients.”

The unit clerk’s archaic workflow

Hospital unit clerks are still doing many of their tasks on paper, as shown in this video of a day in the life of unit clerk Charli Edwards. For example, the unit census—the count of patients in the unit at 11 PM—is faxed to staffing. In addition a printed copy must be signed off by the nurse manager.

Another unit clerk, Roneeshah Budgets, does her unit census by computer. But she contacts on-call providers for consults by phone.

Clinical communication challenges

Contacting specialists for consults is part of the unit clerk’s responsibilities. They frequently must use legacy technology like pagers or phone calls to reach providers.

A leader at a regional hospital in Florida said “When clinicians needed to consult a physician who wasn’t immediately available, a staff member would call the unit clerk, who would call the hospital call center, who would then call the physician to relay the message from the unit… When response time is factored in, the entire process sometimes took an hour.”

As Dr. Sean Spina, the coordinator of the clinical pharmacy program at Island Health, said in Health IT Security, having to get a unit clerk to page a physician and then wait for a response was “wasting a lot of time.”

Using modern messaging to streamline communication

Giving unit clerks access to a secure text messaging platform already used by the other members of a care team can help centralize information and coordinate workflow. For example, if nurses want to switch shifts, including the unit clerk in these communications could help keep the census and nursing sheet properly updated.

Backline offers a simple, smart virtual workspace that clinicians access on their personal smart phones. Care teams use the virtual workspace to check in as needed on group discussions, work with both internal and external providers, and share key data.

Instead of unit clerks having to reach providers by pager or phone, they can reach them in real time by secure messaging. And Backline integrates scheduling, enabling unit clerks to save time by identifying providers who are on call.

About Backline

Backline is a messaging platform for health systems that goes beyond basic texting. In addition to providing secure texting and telehealth for both care teams and patients, we deliver a virtual workspace that brings together both internal and outside providers to collaborate across units and disciplines. Health systems using Backline optimize their efficiency, while increasing clinician and patient satisfaction.