Dr. Kunal Jana doesn’t like pagers.

So when he was looking at how he and his fellow urologists could improve their communication methods as part of an acute care model for urology, pagers didn’t even factor into the equation.

“We all have smartphones with us at all times so why not utilize the technology that we already have?” he says.

A woman at a computer

Rhonda Fafard, Manager of Switchboard, sends an email to text message.

During an acute care urology trial, Dr. Jana looked at the current technology available and discovered email-texting (converting email to text). He initiated it within the urologists’ office, the hospital and ACAL (Acute Care Access Line).

“It worked beautifully for our office and ward staff, as well as ACAL,” says Jana. “However, for anyone else that needed to get a hold of urology, like our patients, they had to call switchboard and then the call was directed to our office. Our office answering service would then text us the info and we would call our patients when available. With these multiple steps or hurdles there can be delays in service for our patients.”

That’s when Dr. Jana decided to talk with Lancey Bachman, Operations Coordinator in the Switchboard department to see what could be done.

“Admittedly, we weren’t sure we could do it at first,” says Bachman. “It was a bit of a process to set it up but in the long run, it’s a better service for our patients and staff.”

As Rhonda Fafard, Manager of Switchboard explains, every major mobile service provider has their own email servers that can convert email to text. “So we send an email and then a physician receives it as a text on his or her phone. It’s a lot like Staff Scheduling where staff get texts when there’s a shift available,” she says.

“I really have to hand it to our operators,” says Bachman. “Dr. Jana approached us on a Friday morning and by late Friday afternoon we had the system in place and operators trained.”

Switchboard has 32 operators, that work between both Royal University Hospital and Saskatoon City Hospital (Switchboard at Saskatoon City Hospital covers St. Paul’s Hospital as well).  “They have to know everything and things change on them every day,” says Bachman. Switchboard handles approximately 6000 calls a day and of the 140,000 calls last month, 85, 000 of them were probably pages.

“Since beginning this initiative with Dr. Jana and urologists, we sent 236 texts at SCH and 148 at RUH,” says Bachman. Within a couple of days of setting up the urologists, Switchboard received a request from the surgical associates who also wanted email-texting. “We were able to add them pretty quickly and we also have a pediatric surgeon set up for email-texting. We’re ready to open this up to other people and groups within the Region now,” she says.

“This is a great example of a ‘just do it’,” says Sandra Blevins, Team Lead of the Transitions of Care Team for the 90 Days of Innovation: Ready Every Day. “This group took it upon themselves to figure out a solution that is ultimately assisting the physicians in meeting their demands of patient flow and creating better access for patients. That kind of initiative and get it done approach is awesome!”

Fafard wants to be clear that email-texting won’t completely eliminate the need for pagers. “We can’t get rid of them completely,” she says. “Code Blue teams, stroke teams and trauma teams still use and need them and right now our software is only capable of making groups that have pagers in them. We couldn’t do a group that had a mix of people being texted and paged. We would need an upgrade to our software to be able to do that.” And although the coverage has improved immensely, there are still areas of the hospitals where cell phones will not work very well.

For now, the email-texting system seems to be working really well and Switchboard has had no complaints about the new service. “I would like to thank Lancey, Rhonda and the switchboard operators for agreeing to try this initiative,” says Dr. Jana. “Our group thinks it has a made a positive impact for us, our nurses, our colleagues in other services and most importantly our patients. This has allowed a more streamlined process for patients requiring our care.”