For an industry that can use polymer-coated metal stents to open arteries about 1/1000’th the size of a penny and align 200+ beams of gamma radiation to ablate malignancies, its pretty surprising that healthcare as a whole has been a late-adopter of technology in pretty much every area outside of direct patient care. However, just as the stimulus package lit a fire under the movement to embrace electronic medical records, communications technology has finally begun to evolve as well.

In many other areas of healthcare, we’ve seen innovators leverage the investments of others, specifically electronics manufacturers and telecoms, to advance the practice of medicine. Similarly, in healthcare communications some of the more traditional players – Avaya, Vocera for example – have begun to offer support for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices. Voalte, which we recently featured, is company that embraced these popular platforms from the start. They believed these emerging smartphone platforms could transform healthcare communications, designing a system for nurses for the iPhone and Blackberry devices.

Here, we talk with Trey Lauderdale, VP of Innovation at Voalte, about the future of Voalte and healthcare communications.

(1) Based on marketing, it appears that Voalte One is directed primarily at nursing. Have you evaluated how this system fits into the physicians workflow? If so, how has been optimized in this regard?

When we first started Voalte, some of the best advice we received from thought-leading hospital CIO’s was – “Start small. Too many young companies try to deliver every solution possible to hospitals and end up failing. Do one thing, and do it well.”

We decided at Voalte to focus on nurse communication at the point of care and improve it by implementing voice, alarms, and text solutions on smartphones. Nurses and point-of-care clinicians are the most critical component of hospital communication and we wanted to make sure we did a good job understanding their workflow and build a solution that makes their lives easier.

We have rolled out Voalte to many hospital employees beyond nursing: pharmacists, anesthesiologists, hospitalists, case managers, phlebotomists, etc.

Physicians also have a unique communications workflow and we have been working to adapt Voalte to make their lives easier as well. That is one of our main focuses in 2011.

Ed Comment: We did clarify that part of this adaptation for physicians will include support for out-of-hospital communications.

(2) Do you have any plans to integrate with EMR (particularly lab and radiology alerts) or use voice recognition technology?

Almost all EMR vendors have a mobile strategy in place. Out the gates, any iPhone application or web app they build can be placed on the same iPhones that Voalte uses. This is the easiest way to access the EMR from a Voalte device.

As for integration of lab and radiology alerts, we currently leverage middleware providers to receive those alarms.

(3) What kind of savings and hospitals gain from implementing Voalte One over traditional systems – and how are these figures calculated?

According a Univeristy of Maryland study, the average 500 bed hospital will waste $4MM annually on poor communication. A breakdown in communication is also the leading cause of sentinel events inside a hospital (according to JCAHO). Voalte leverages smartphones to help improve communication and solve these problems.

We have deployed a number of university sponsored research teams to create case studies on how Voalte helps improve efficiency of our nurses and other hospital staff. We expect to have this research gathered in the next few months and our reports out by the end of the year.