Monday, April 14, 2014

Cool New Vendor and Technology: VerbalCare

Disclosure:  I have absolutely nothing to gain financially or otherwise from the companies that I review, nor do members of my family or friends.

A few weeks ago, I came across VerbalCare, a technology startup company that offers a new form of communication for inpatients and their caregivers. Their goal is to improve the way patients communicate with their healthcare team during inpatient visits and, as byproducts, give nurses some valuable time back into their days, while collecting data about nursing time that feeds a broad variety of valuable analytics use cases, notably nursing labor.

The company began by helping non-verbal patients communicate through an icon-based tablet application, hence the name, VerbalCare.  They found that patients who had couldn’t talk or use a traditional call button, suddenly felt empowered to communicate with their care provider team in the hospital for the first time. After working with nurses at Mass General Hospital, VerbalCare saw a need to help all patients—not just the non-verbal patients-- in hospitals and nursing homes better communicate with their caregivers.  Their solution consists of a patient facing application that runs on a tablet mounted at the bedside. When a patient needs help, they select icons associated with their requests—nursing, housekeeping, dietary, physical therapy, etc.  These requests are then sent to the nurse’s handheld devices - like an iPhone - which in turn enables the nurse to triage and respond to the request seamlessly. Pretty simple, eh? It makes me wonder why I didn’t already think of this and start this company.

The benefits to patients seem obvious, but you have to wonder what nurses think of such a solution.  Through a random study of 120 nurses, the VerbalCare team uncovered some compelling insights around the attitudes of nurses.  The study uncovered that 84% of nurses wished they had a better tool for communication (i.e. not the call-bell). 74% of that group felt that VerbalCare, or a comparable tool, would improve patient-nurse communication and save them time in their day.  My sister, Paula Nabors, is a Labor & Delivery nurse and she thinks the concept is fantastic.  And she’s the smartest person in our family. J

VerbalCare aims to empower the patients to feel better about the care they are receiving, and help nurses improve their days. With this system, nurses know what the requests are before walking into the room, and the requests are sent to the appropriate caregivers. This way people can address needs according to their skill sets. The system can also replace primitive communication technology such as letter boards, white boards and lip-reading. It can be used in any language, which makes everyone's lives easier. Since the system is cloud based, family members can login remotely to see what is occurring with their loved ones. This gives family members better a peace of mind.

As the company grows, they are regularly adding features, for example, a workflow that automates the nursing care plan. Right now, nurses look through these plans and check-in on patients to remind them to do things, such as elevating the bed to 45 degrees. Now these tasks are entered into the software and the patients and their families get reminders for these sorts of activities, too.  These reminders keep appearing until the patient marks that the task was completed. VerbalCare also added in a section where the patient can see his/her care team. This has pictures and bios of the staff, so the patient can feel more connected to their team. Plus, they are launching an on-demand survey tool. With this function, the institution can help improve the patient's comfort. They can ask questions like "Is your room clean enough?" This not only helps the patient, but let's the institution addresses any problem areas before the patient is released.

Right now, the team is working to run a number of pilots for this year and figuring out what analytics and data people want to track. They are looking into the volume of requests, nursing workflows, patient safety initiatives - such as fall prevention - and other ways to improve the patient experience.  As a hospital executive, have you ever wanted a data collection and analysis system that would allow you to see how many patients want their floors to be quieter? If so this solution now exists.  

In terms of the hardware the institution can either use their own hardware or VerbalCare can provide it at a nominal cost.  There will be some challenges to things like power cords, keeping the batteries charged, infection control procedures, and positioning the device on or near the bedside, but none of those are big enough hurdles to threaten the major advantages of VerbalCare.

As we all know the world of healthcare is somewhat archaic so it’s great to see a company focusing on bringing everyday technology to the patient experience. We all use smartphones and tablets in our day to day existence, and it’s great to see a new startup making strides to bring these normal modes of social interaction and communication into the healthcare experience.  

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