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Innovation enhancing extraordinary patient experiences at Niagara Health

Posted Nov 24th, 2016

Innovation plays a vital role in improving healthcare delivery, patient satisfaction and patient outcomes. Advancements in medical technology allow our healthcare providers to better diagnose, treat and care for their patients.

Niagara Health, a multi-site care provider offering a wide range of inpatient and outpatient programs and services in Ontario’s Niagara Region, is on the leading edge of developing and using innovative systems. Some of these innovations may not be as readily visible as the latest state-of-the-art equipment might be to patients and yet it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to care.

Fostering a culture of extraordinary innovation at Niagara Health is a key direction of our ambitious strategic plan. Efforts so far are making a significant contribution in our work to create extraordinary experiences for our patients, their families and our teams.

Among the successes, Niagara Health is improving patient satisfaction, creating a more seamless system of care, enhancing communication among our multidisciplinary teams and improving workflow.

"Our people at Niagara Health are making a difference. The teamwork, fresh thinking and innovation taking place are having an important impact on the care we provide our patients," says Niagara Health President Dr. Suzanne Johnston. “An added benefit of this commitment to continuous quality improvement is our success in recruiting great people to work and volunteer at our hospital.”

Here are just a few examples of how our innovative systems are enhancing the patient experience and supporting our healthcare teams:


Niagara Health recently launched a real-time patient satisfaction measurement tool that includes an escalation process for timely resolution of their concerns.

This technology, developed by Niagara Health’s Information and Communications Technology team, allows trained volunteers to visit patients in their rooms using a hand-held tablet to complete the survey. The volunteers ask patients five questions covering areas such as whether a doctor or nurse explained their care in a way they can understand, the involvement they had in decisions about their care and how they would rate the care they received. 

Any need not being met triggers an automatic email, using Connexall technology, to the Clinical Manager of the unit, signalling to the manager that there is a patient concern that needs to be addressed. Being able to collect and act upon “in-the-moment feedback” can make all the difference in the experience of our patients and creates new learning opportunities for both staff and leaders.


Niagara Health's new portering system was launched in 2013 to make patient transfers within the hospital faster and smoother, whether for a diagnostic test, procedure or other need.

Niagara Health worked with Connexall (an integrated technology solution company) to develop an automated notification system that allows all hospital staff involved with patient transports to follow a patient’s status or movement along the route in real time on a monitor.  

Automating our porters’ workflow has significantly improved patient transport times from one location in the hospital to another and has generated positive feedback from both patients and staff. Reduced wait times for transfers translate into better experiences for our patients and a greater ability of our porters to manage their workloads. 

Here’s how the program works: Porters receive transport requests directly through a dedicated wireless phone system; those issuing the request for a patient transport are advised the moment it is received and accepted by the porter who will be managing the task. The task can be escalated if more or alternate resources are needed.

The system provides up-to-the-minute details on each task to ensure a more seamless process for patients and staff. As a result, patients receive better service and staff on our units spend less of their valuable time coordinating and following up on transfers.


Another innovative tool used by our physicians makes it faster and more secure for them to communicate with one another on their smartphones to share test results and other key patient-related information, ultimately resulting in more timely care for patients.

Working with IBM and Vocera Communications, Inc., Niagara Health designed and deployed this innovative smartphone app that allows Niagara Health physicians to instant message each other through their personal smartphones.

The application lets the user know when a message has been sent, received and read. Unlike a paging system, the sender knows that their message has reached the correct person in one easy step. This tool also has built-in contact lists that allow users, for example, to reach the on-call physician without having to know who is on call.

Most importantly, the information shared is secure as it is stored on servers housed on Niagara Health property. Doctors can now send patient information like diagnoses and X-rays to each other through their own smartphones without risking a breach in patient privacy.

Niagara Health’s Information and Communications Technology department worked with the hospital’s doctors to customize the app to specifically meet their communication needs.

Other hospitals in Ontario are now looking to Niagara Health to see how they can implement similar leading-edge communication technology.


Niagara Health was one of the first hospital systems of its size in Canada to provide its community with real-time Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre wait times and other information about usage.

As part of our ongoing efforts to improve the patient experience and access to care, wait time information is available on Niagara Health’s website and on TV monitors at our sites allowing people to make decisions about how they access care. This system, powered by our partners Oculys, reinforces our commitment to be transparent and accountable by communicating information in real time that will help those we serve make more informed decisions about their care.

Other innovative solutions we have undertaken with Oculys include implementation of a new decision support tool that our healthcare leaders and front-line staff use every day to manage the movement of patients throughout our hospitals and services. The new Oculys Performance tool is a mobile-friendly dashboard that provides our teams with one concise overview displaying real-time operations data for use to make decisions on a timely basis. The dashboards provide information about bed occupancy across each program, patient bed assignments, anticipated discharges, and they even allow patient care areas to view their incoming and outgoing patients. Information is also available providing an overview of our ED/UCCs, including the number of admitted patients awaiting a bed within the hospital as well as the number of patients in the waiting room.

We have also invested in a similar tool with our partner Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. Catharines that improves the flow of patients by helping them to more quickly access the proper level of care they need. With this new tool, patients at Niagara Health needing rehabilitation or complex care are identified sooner, allowing for a more seamless transition to the next level of care and resulting in reduced wait times.

Other examples of innovations Niagara Health has undertaken to improve healthcare within its own organization and the larger healthcare system:

I-EQUIP PARTNERSHIP: The Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement Program functions as an extension of the classroom, providing an opportunity for students from Brock University and McMaster University’s School of Medicine – Niagara campus, as well as leaders and front-line staff from Niagara Health to work together on a variety of quality patient-care initiatives at our hospital and other healthcare organizations. This program has expanded since it was originally introduced and has gained attention from healthcare and education partners across the country.

HELPING DIALYSIS PATIENTS CONNECT: Our online community for dialysis patients continues to get international attention. This project, supported by a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, focuses on self-management initiatives, learning, and education and support for kidney disease patients. It allows Niagara Health to feature an online forum between patients and includes a monthly online chat for patients to connect with health experts and one another. Feedback from patients has been very positive, and they have noted that the online forum helps them support each other, share information and provide feedback to program leadership.

Niagara Health System