SnapComms tool creates “unmissable” emergency updates for staff
August 28, 2019
It was fall 2017, and Northern Health (NH) realized it had to make a change. That summer, hundreds of people had flooded into northern BC to escape wildfires in the Cariboo and Southern Interior regions of the province.
For more than six weeks, NH hosted more than 300 evacuated hospital patients and long-term care/assisted living residents – and handled almost a thousand clinic and hospital visits by evacuated members of the general population.
During this chaotic time, NH leaders regularly updated staff and physicians via email. But most frontline staff use shared computers, and logging in can be time-consuming; the result is that many rarely check email.
And, there was no way to make urgent wildfire updates really stand out. “The fire messaging tended to get lost in people’s inboxes,” says Brandan Spyker, intranet specialist at NH.
As Jim Fitzpatrick, director, health emergency management BC, North, observes: “Staff and physicians said that during the wildfires, they hadn’t felt fully informed about the changing situation. We needed a better way to reach them during emergencies.”
As a result, NH Internal Communications and Health Emergency Management BC, North collaborated to explore options. After some research, they chose SnapComms, which provides alerts that help make priority messages virtually unmissable.
“We picked SnapComms because of its real-time analytics, the way it gives you several different ways to get employee attention, and because it’s used by more than 150 health care organizations, including the NHS in the UK, and some Ontario hospitals,” said Spyker.
Other considerations were that SnapComms stores its data in Canada, and that its messaging can target specific communities (facility targeting is in the works).
After being reviewed by four NH teams – Privacy, Technology, Security, and Telecommunications – the SnapComms project received the green light for a pilot. Working with Hope and Hoppen, the Canadian representative for SnapComms, the NH team arranged a multi-day pilot in the town of Quesnel for September 2018.
Using a combination of neutral test messaging and a mock bus crash scenario, the team sent messages such as the following: “To all staff and physicians: Greyhound bus crash 40 km south of Quesnel. Unconfirmed fatalities at scene. More information to follow.” The messages popped up on NH computer screens, in front of any open applications. After reading the messages, users could easily close the messages and return to their work.
All 314 NH computers in Quesnel took part, with the more realistic messaging targeted to a smaller group to avoid creating panic. After the pilot, Quesnel staff members and physicians were surveyed, with 73.5% describing SnapComms as either “extremely useful” or “very useful.”
“It was in your face, visible, unlike an email, which many people ignore,” said one staff member.
Staff also ranked SnapComms as more effective than phone calls, email, social media, NH websites, the NH intranet – or even in-person communication.
“I liked that SnapComms was not intrusive to what you were doing, but it was enough that you were aware that something was going on,” said Adele Bachand, NH’s regional manager, healthy settings, Public Health Community Development.
In spring 2019, NH purchased SnapComms, rolling it out in May to all 5,000 corporate laptops and desktops (excluding a small number of dedicated clinical computers, where an emergency message could disrupt patient care.) A test message to all staff was successfully sent on May 23.
“We chose the private cloud hosting option because personal information, such as staff phone numbers, will be stored in the SnapComms database,” says Laura Johnson, NH project coordinator, service delivery, who led the IT portion of the project. “It’s a private, fully isolated server dedicated to Northern Health.”