Jose Barreau, MD is chairman and CEO of Halo Health of Cincinnati, OH.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’m a physician and oncologist. I practiced until 2015. I was involved in creating a cancer institute and what I called multidisciplinary care, where a patient can come in and see all of their oncology doctors — surgical, medical, and radiation – at the same time. That got me interested in communication and collaboration and how that is important to a health system.
Halo Health offers a clinical collaboration platform. It is a cloud-based application that goes across health systems and has every clinician on it — doctors, nurses, and medical staff. It allows them to message each other, call each other, and receive alerts. It supports real-time clinical communication on one application across the system. We focus on real-time, high-priority, urgent and emergent information and communications.
How would you describe the clinical collaboration platform market and how Halo Health differs from its competitors?
We are focused on role-based communications, which is different in healthcare than in other businesses. About 40 to 50% of healthcare communication with a role you know – such as “cardiologist on call” or “charge nurse on the 14th floor” – rather than a named individual. Our platform allows for accurate manual and schedule-based, role-based communication, which differentiates us from anyone else.
How has the care team definition changed with COVID-19 and the rise of telehealth?
We started off as a secure texting application. We realized pretty quickly that secure texting is OK, but it is poorly adopted. People only text the people they know are working at that moment, so the platform is adopted only in pockets. Identifying roles and communicating call message and alert roles opens up the other 50% of the health system in a single platform.
With COVID, we really needed to set up teams, identify contacts, and get people moved through the system quickly. For example, “COVID charge nurse” is a role that multiple people fill based on the time of day, and a role-based platform can support that.
How has the mix of message types changed between real-time voice and asynchronous text?
I learned two things in studying communication and collaboration. Doctors and nurses want to do things faster, but they also want to be interrupted less. A doctor or nurse is interrupted from a patient encounter every time their phone rings since they are usually in front of a patient. That’s a problem when just calling them or messaging them with routine information. You want to give them a chance to respond when they can, and asynchronous communication is effective for situations where you don’t need to answer right away, but instead can wait a few minutes to wrap up your conversation with the patient. Nurses and doctors want patients to feel like they are the most important thing in the world to them at that time.
Do clients expect their messaging systems to be integrated with other systems?
They do. The big question is, what do you integrate? We are trying to clearly define that to protect the platform. We don’t want all the information that’s out there. If you want something from the EHR, we want you to go to the EHR. We also want to keep integration real time, so we integrate with the nurse call system, the PBX, physiological monitoring, and those types of things.
We have to do discovery about what that organization thinks is important. Even the level of integration with the EHR depends on what the organization wants.
Do you have to protect clinicians from being barraged with messages that non-clinicians send just because it’s convenient for them to do so?
I battled a long time with that when I was practicing medicine and directing the cancer institute. Some physicians are comfortable with being contacted when needed, but others don’t want anyone contacting them. We do a lot with healthcare leadership, such as chief medical officers. I personally feel that physicians should be open to communication from everyone, but everyone should know what is appropriate to communicate at what time, and that’s our philosophy.
I don’t think doctors and nurses should be on separate platforms, although some people believe that. I think that’s a huge mistake. One communication platform for everyone is appropriate, as long as the platform can provide certain protections and users have been educated on what is real time and reminded that they are interrupting a doctor or a nurse.
I find it funny that people talk about interrupting doctors, but nurses get interrupted all the time and nobody is saying much about that. Nurses are barraged with alerts and all this type of stuff. It’s OK to interrupt nurses eight times when they’re with a patient, but it’s not OK to interrupt a doctor. I would argue that nurses often spend more time with patients and develop stronger relationships with them.
It needs to be looked at holistically across the organization in terms of each role, but each doctor, nurse, or other clinician should be easily accessible. That’s our philosophy.
Email is notorious for allowing people to add others to a conversation without turning any of the discussion into actual assignments. Are messaging workflow components available to assign actions and log them as either completed or reassigned?
Everything in a clinical collaboration platform like ours is auditable and traceable. It’s usually individual-to-individual or individual-to-role. Everyone has an ID, and there’s an individual behind that role. Everything that is sent, delivered, and read is tracked. If you send a message to five people on the code team, all of them have the responsibility to read the message and respond to the code. The sender can see who has read it and who hasn’t.
You can put controls in place for resending and escalating, but if the message was directed to you or the role you’re filling, you are responsible. That’s why the role-based platform component is important, and having accuracy on the other side so that someone receives the alert or message.
What capabilities of secure communications systems have changed with the availability of cloud-based systems?
We are 100% Amazon technology. We evaluated a lot of technologies in 2015 and felt Amazon gave us the most scalability, reliability, and security. We signed a business associate agreement with them and developed a good partnership.
The Amazon platform gives our product scalability. We can have a huge organization on the West Coast, a huge organization on the East Coast, and another in the Midwest, and all of them can add users and mobile transactions without affecting response times or delivery times. We can add organizations on the fly and constantly release products and features as software as a service. Health systems, physicians, and nurses should be on the latest, greatest technology in the most current version at all times and cloud technology allows us to do that.
How do you see the company’s future?
We have built all the channels, the alerting, the calling, and the messaging. We have a tremendous amount of data going through our system. A lot of it was never captured before, stuff on pagers or on personal phones. We’re focused on data analytics to create insights around communication patterns and communication workflows to define their impact on patient outcomes.
We want to get the right information to the right person, make it accurate, improve patient throughput, reduce staff burnout, and increase clinician satisfaction. The future is in creating those insights and continuously optimizing workflows to improve patient care. We add features and functionality solely to improve patient care. Then we need to have data to show the chief medical officer, the CFO, and people who are playing for the platform how it adds value to patient care in their health system and how it creates return on investment.
Do you have any final thoughts?
The lack of communication and collaboration is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, causes of patient harm right now. Solving this problem will save more lives than a new medication. It has been fragmented in the past. We should all get behind unifying it and shedding a spotlight on the importance of communication and collaboration to keep making progress.