Why Situational Awareness is Critical for Hospitals and Healthcare Teams

by | Feb 5, 2019

When healthcare leaders talk about improving processes for better, more responsive care delivery, situational awareness is a key concept. This term has been adapted from aviation, disaster response, and defense sectors into many industries seeking to become more responsive. But how does this military term apply to your healthcare setting, and can it really help? 

Recent situational awareness research surveyed by clinicians Gary Sculli and Douglas Paull suggests that many clinicians and healthcare workers aren’t sure what situational awareness means for them.

As advocates for healthcare situational awareness, Sculli and Paull observed that “it can be comfortably asserted that it is exponentially harder for clinicians to maintain adequate levels of SA [situational awareness] than it is for an airline pilot”—and Sculli is a former airline pilot!

Because LiveProcess was first developed in the world of emergency management, we come to healthcare situational awareness with an insider’s advantage. Effective disaster response requires rapid, reliable dissemination of up-to-date information to keep everyone aware of how a situation is evolving in real time. It also calls for quick mobilization of resources, flexible collaboration and coordination, tracking of both responders and victims, and detailed incident logging, all managed in a centralized location.

Healthcare situational awareness for every day

Emergency management capabilities translate readily to everyday care delivery scenarios. For example, in the report Hype Cycle for Real-Time Health System Technologies 2018, Gartner defines healthcare situational awareness in both an ideal and concrete sense:

Situational awareness: A timely and accurate understanding of events surrounding the patient, the resources of the hospital and what is likely to happen in the near future. In practice, situational awareness is about knowing where people (for example, patients, clinicians and care team members) and resources (for example, medical devices, wheelchairs and surgical equipment, capacity and partners) are at any point in time, and in some cases, their state, within the context of patient care, achieving an objective, managing a crisis or other. Situational awareness involves sensing, collecting, analyzing and contextualizing activity and event data to improve healthcare provider care delivery, operations and performance.

This is a strong definition of healthcare situational awareness because it goes beyond basics such as alerts, notifications, and other forms of one-way communication and instead focuses on the ability to synthesize and use information when determining and implementing the appropriate actions. 

As in disaster response, everyday healthcare situational awareness is shared situational awareness, so that personnel and resources can be coordinated to greatest effect. Likewise, the technology that drives this type of situational awareness doesn’t just send out individual pieces of information: it creates and shares a holistic view of healthcare operations, so that individuals can anticipate, predict, and adapt as events are happening.

How Clinical Communication Technology Drives Transformation in Healthcare Delivery

Shared situational awareness in action

Picture an ordinary day in a  busy emergency department, with many different streams and types of information.

  • A PBX operator is getting details about incoming trauma cases from EMT.
  • Frontline staff are triaging patients on arrival.
  • ED nurses are calling around for transportation, bed availability, housekeeping, behavioral health needs, security, and more.

Most hospitals already have solutions for communicating information and requests, whether through the EMR, overhead pages, direct pages to individuals or other means.

What’s lacking is the capacity to pull together this information in real time and use it to coordinate a more efficient and effective response, whether at the individual or enterprise-wide level.

In other words, as Gartner said in its 2018 Strategic Roadmap to the Real-Time Health System, “While the average healthcare provider is drowning in data, situational awareness is severely limited.”

If anything, all the uncoordinated phone calls, alerts, alarms, and pages make it more difficult to focus attention where it needs to be. Technology for shared situational awareness brings together disparate piece of information, allowing enhanced decision making and faster response times.

For example, with share situational awareness, when the PBX operator gets a trauma call, that information could be logged in a clinical communication and collaboration system and shared widely to trigger multiple actions at once, throughout the hospital:

  • Accelerate discharges to create more bed availability.
  • Alert housekeeping to clean rooms and clear beds for admissions influx.
  • Reprioritize staffing assignments or call additional staff as needed.
  • Deliver needed resources (e.g., surgical supplies, wheelchairs or gurneys).
  • Initiate additional security rounding.

Shared situational awareness mobilizes a swift and appropriate response across departments. Each member of the healthcare team can take the right action independently, without waiting for a meeting or phone call. As a result, patients receive treatment more quickly, ED overcrowding is prevented, care outcomes improve, and patient satisfaction increases. In the long term, the ability of some clinical communication and collaboration solutions to log events and track metrics over time allows hospitals to make changes that align staff and resources with identified trends.

The potential impact of shared situational awareness is still coming into focus for clinicians, but the elements of effective care delivery are concrete. When those elements can be coordinated in a way that benefits patients and relieves stress for care providers, clinicians will find situational awareness an idea that is easy to embrace.

Next steps

See how real-time healthcare technology improves ED throughput at this hospital.

Learn more in the white paper How Clinical Communication Technology Drives Transformation in Healthcare Delivery.

Read the related post, Make the Business Case for Real-Time Healthcare Technology.

Explore the Real-time Healthcare Resource Center.

See LiveProcess Communicator, used for real-time healthcare communication and coordination software in healthcare delivery organizations.

terry-zysk-100x100Terry Zysk, CEO of LiveProcess, has more than two decades of experience in leading organizations that provide innovative solutions to the healthcare industry.