IT Communications in Hospital

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Saint Peter’s University Hospital, which is located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is a 478-bed teaching hospital and part of the Saint Peter’s Health Partners group, which has been recently formed through the merger of five different hospitals and a long-term-care facility. Once the merger is finalized the group will comprise 12,500 healthcare professionals and support staff.

George Zimmerman is Manager of Web Services for the Saint Peter's Health Partners group. The Web Services team manages all web-based applications across more than 8,000 desktop PCs and 72 different web-servers.


SnapComms Desktop Alerts were introduced at Saint Peter’s Hospital to communicate critical clinical information system outages — both scheduled and unplanned. Among the technical considerations was the need to host the system locally and, as the group moved increasingly into electronic medical records (EMR), there had to be a guaranteed way of reaching all users in the event of an outage. Zimmerman explains, “The importance of those EMR systems being online all the time is critical. The second they are down we are challenged with how do we communicate that to every single desktop at the nurse unit..”




Bypassing email - Prior to using SnapComms, the Web Services team was mostly reliant on email and the home page of the intranet for getting messages across. The issue with email was that hospital staff are not always able to check their emails. As Zimmerman was finding, "Out on the clinical floor their in-box is not open all the time. So the communication is lost. But now it is right there in front of them."

IT Incident communication - The hospital has three levels of IT incident. A Priority 1 (P1) is where the information system is down and impacts all users; Priority 2 is where the system is not functioning as normal and impacts many users; Priority 3 is not patient-care critical. SnapComms is used to communicate unplanned P1 and P2 situations, such as the patient registration process being down, as well as the scheduled downtime (usually monthly maintenance) of patient-care systems.

Delivery to multiple devices - The SnapComms desktop alerts have been implemented across all desktops and laptops in the cancer care, cardiology, dietary, hospice, information services, laboratory, pharmacy and radiology departments at Saint Peter’s Hospital. However the biggest area in which it is used is in clinical informatics, where nursing staff and physicians need to be most urgently kept updated. There the software has been installed on all nursing unit desktops, laptops and portable units, known as workstations on wheels (WOWs).

Delegated message administrators - The Web Services team factored in the need to have to communicate with specific departments or groups of users when it implemented the desktop alerts. They selected dedicated administrators in each area who were given access and trained to build reports and distribute messages to their own areas using the SnapComms software. By training administrators in each area and giving them the tools and the authority, it has taken the dependence on sending messages away from the IT area and administrators can make the judgement call. He has also seen a drastic improvement in IT communications, which is something that is an enduring challenge not just for Saint Peter’s but the healthcare sector as a whole.

Reaching staff in remote locations - With 155 sites, Saint Peter’s Health Partners needs to reach staff based in remote locations. As soon as a staff member is logged into the network, they can receive any messages targeted at them, a group they belong to (for example users of a particular system) or updates relevant only to that particular location. The other benefit of implementing remote access to SnapComms is the ability for administrators or the Web Services team to manage out-of-hours communications. Zimmerman confirms that “If it is off-hours and an alert has to be defined, it’s possible.”

Delivery options (with or without interruption) - Zimmerman says that the SnapComms alerts have delivered a number of benefits. He likes the fact that the desktop messages can be set up to be delivered “with interruption or without interruption”.

Measuring readership - While the Web Services team is not actively measuring readership of individual messages on a regular basis, the departmental administrators are empowered to do this. Meanwhile Zimmerman is easily able to provide usage and readership statistics to Saint Peter’s Chief Information Officer on request.




The intention now is to expand SnapComms out across the whole enterprise and to installing it on mobile devices. Zimmerman says,“We’re all going to be one healthcare system and a single IT department. We want to communicate across the whole organization.”


  • Communicate critical systems outages

  • Reach hospital staff without email - staff are not regularly able to check e-mail inboxes / do not have access to e-mail

  • Unread message recurrence - to ensure messages are noticed

  • Ability to target communications - to specific departments or groups of users

  • Reach remote staff - Need to reach staff in remote locations


  • Recent merger of five hospitals and long-term care facility

  • 2500 healthcare staff

  • 8000 desktop PCs and 70 different Web servers

  • 155 sites

  • Local hosting of the SnapComms solution


  • Dedicated administrators are able to distribute their own messages to their own areas

  • E-mail access not required - messages are received as soon as any staff member is logged into the network, regardless of their location

  • Measurement of readership, able to provide usage and readership statistics to senior management

  • Drastic improvement in message cut-through for outage communications

"On the clinical floor healthcare workers in-boxes are not open all the time so the communication was lost, but now it is right there in front of them"

George Zimmerman
Manager of Web services, Saint Peter’s Healthcare group

St Peter's University Hospital



The St Peters team came up with a number of guidelines and policies regarding the best practice use of desktop alerts in a hospital environment. More information can be found here (see info )




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