Intercoms vs. Wireless Headsets for Cath and EP Labs

C-Com Elite Headset on Doc2.jpg

In the interventional suite having clear communication between the clinical team is critical to the success of the lab. In EP and Cath labs, having a separate control room, procedure room, and supply area can further complicate the matter, increasing the probability of communication related errors. Traditionally, intercom systems have been used to bridge the gap, allowing nurses and technicians in the control room to communicate with the physician performing the case. Another option is to use wireless headsets. So, which solution would fit your lab best? 3 main factors to consider when making a decision about which communication solution to use in your interventional lab are: cost of ownership, ease-of-use, and patient safety.

Cost of Ownership:

Intercoms and wireless headsets both are available in a variety of qualities - and price points. Generally though, an entry level intercom system is more budget friendly than an entry level wireless headset solution. Entry level intercom systems, which is what you find in many labs, work decently well. They usually have a PTT (push-to-talk) mic in the control room and a mic on the boom for the physician, which is always on. If you're on a tight budget, and deciding between a budget friendly intercom system or a cheap headset option, it is best to go with the more durable and more reliable intercom system. Cheap headsets that aren’t designed for medical use can have issues staying connected through leaded glass and generally have poor battery life and low durability, making them an unnecessary risk in the lab.

However, if you are committed to ensuring that your medical team can communicate clearly, a high fidelity intercom system or a medical specific wireless headset system will be your go-to options. Both cost about the same amount up front; so it comes down to preference, warranty terms and install availability. At Carrot Medical we stand behind our products, backing our Pro and Pro Elite wireless headset systems with a 2 and 3 year warranty, respectively. Before you sign the dotted line on any new system, be it intercom or headsets, be sure to read the fine print on your warranty terms and ensure that you are covered adequately. A solid warranty will reduce the cost of ownership long term. Installation is another factor to consider. Because intercoms have to be installed by running cables through the ceiling, a day or two of lab downtime is not uncommon for installation. Headsets are plug-and-play, requiring zero downtime for the lab, and usually only 10-15 minutes to setup and train staff how to use the new system.

Ease of Use:

A communication solution that is too cumbersome or awkward to use won’t last for long; it needs to blend seamlessly into your workflow and allow you and your team to do your jobs effectively. A great communication solution is one you don’t have to think about. Intercom systems are good because they are always setup, don’t have to be charged, and are reliable. But this reliability comes with a cost: Proximity to the mic, background noise and the location of the speaker all affect audio quality, even with high fidelity systems. This can be problematic, especially when you have people moving around the room, or want to be able to exit the lab but stay connected to the case. This inconsistent audio quality, paired with the annoyance of having a loudspeaker magnifying voices and background noise, can make the lab seem chaotic, rather than calm. Wireless headsets solve many of these shortcomings, allowing the medical team to calmly and accurately communicate with one another. Because the microphones are located right next to the speaker’s mouth, rather than feet away, background noise is significantly reduced and the clarity is maintained, regardless of where team members are positioned - inside or outside the lab. The downside of wireless headsets is that a headset must be worn, which some people find a nuisance. For labs that have some physicians that refuse to wear headsets, but still want the benefits of headset systems, a hybrid intercom-headset system can be set up, allowing for both headsets and intercoms to be used at once. However, wireless headsets have come a long way since their inception, and are light weight and comfortable for all-day use.

Patient Safety:

The most important element to consider when looking at a communication system is how will it affect patent safety. The Joint Commission performed a study in 2012 and concluded that “Ineffective hand-off communication is recognized as a critical patient safety problem in health care; in fact, an estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers during the transfer of patients.”

In the interventional suite it’s crucial there is clear communication between the physician and nurses monitoring the patient. For example, during an ablation, if warning signs aren’t communicated clearly, the catheter could perforate. Another potential issue is that multiple drugs have similar names and miss-hearing this information could be detrimental for a patient’s wellbeing. Wireless headset systems, with close mic proximity, no room-noise feedback, and in-ear audio are the gold standard for high-definition audio in a lab. However, that’s not to say that high fidelity intercom systems don’t work well, because they do, depending on your lab’s setup and requirements.

Final Thoughts:

The decision to go with an intercom system or a wireless headset system for a lab is dependent on a lot of factors: Both have their merits and setbacks to be considered. Cost of ownership, ease-of-use, and effectiveness all weigh on the decision. At Carrot, we hold safety and quality in the highest regard, which is why we recommend either headsets or a headset/intercom hybrid setup, allowing for the utmost clarity between team members and improved safety for patients. To learn more about our audio solutions click here.

Jake Thayer