6 Ways to Transform Healthcare Communication

6 Ways to Transform Healthcare Communication

Ineffective communication practices hold many healthcare organizations back. Administrators may be reluctant to invest in new technology, but they may not realize that continuing to operate with communication inefficiencies can lead to more medical errors, higher costs, and even lower staff morale. When administrators and clinicians work together to improve communication within their organization, they can usher in many benefits for employees and patients alike.

Why Do Healthcare Providers Often Use Substandard Communication Technologies?

One of the primary barriers to adopting new technologies is financial concerns. Implementing new communications infrastructure for care teams organization-wide can seem daunting. However, improving communications technology can lead to more productivity from care teams and reduced costs in the long run. One analysis found that the use of smartphones in the healthcare industry boosted productivity by $11.2 billion [1].

Some healthcare organizations may also have concerns related to security and adhering to the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rule, especially when communication on mobile devices is encouraged. However, when reliable systems built with HIPAA-compliant security in mind are implemented alongside proper staff training, healthcare providers can better understand safety and privacy protocols and will likely have fewer objections to using new systems [2].

How to Transform Healthcare Communications Systems

Healthcare organizations can optimize care team communications by focusing on several key factors [3]:

  1. Recognize how improved communication can help accomplish other organizational goals. Breakdowns in communication play a role in over 70% of sentinel events [4]. Making care team collaboration more straightforward can help prevent medical errors and improve patient transfers and handoffs [5]. Also, healthcare workers list improved communication as the top suggestion for improving job satisfaction [6]. In addition to fewer errors and less staff turnover, improved communication can lead to fewer delays in care, shorter hospital stays, higher patient satisfaction, and improved patient outcomes [5]. For example, one healthcare organization cut patient readmissions by 50% when they adopted a new communications tool for improving handoffs [7]. When organizations prioritize improving care team communication, they can also help address other potential shortcomings.
  2. Focus on organizational bottlenecks. Poor communication often undermines treatment at several points within the care continuum. Focusing on improving communication at specific bottlenecks, such as knowing who is on call for consultations or how to more effectively support patient handoffs, can lead to better quality care. For example, one health system shortened the time it took to deliver lab results from 12 minutes to 2.5 minutes following adoption of an automated technology solution that provided easier access to patient information [3].
  3. Connect care team communications with the EHR. Successful communications platforms can integrate multiple different systems for ease of use. For example, a communications system can send out automated alerts when there are updates within the EHR and send care team notifications or alerts when there is a patient transfer [3].
  4. Choose one system that can be adopted organization-wide for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. A patient may come into contact with 50 different employees during a four-day hospital visit [5]. When multiple departments use different communication forms, or when different types of information are located within different systems, there may be delays in care. When healthcare systems use one platform for all communication purposes, care teams will have all of the information they need in one place, and organizations won’t have to spend as much time training employees on multiple systems.
  5. Get clinician perspectives on communication needs. When clinical staff has the opportunity to speak about communication problems and potential solutions, they may be more likely to adopt new systems once they are implemented. Try assessing your current communications systems through surveys, reports, focus groups, meetings, and suggestion boxes [5].
  6. Use the tools that are proven to be the most effective. The communications methods that healthcare organizations use don’t always match up with patient preferences. In particular, over half of healthcare organizations use patient portals for communication purposes, but 80% of patients prefer other modes of communication [3]. Patient portals may not be as effective as secure SMS/text messaging, which research has shown can have many benefits for both patients and organizations. Text messaging can encourage patients to take preventative health measures, increasing cancer screening rates by up to 63% [8]. Multiple high-quality reviews have also shown that messaging programs increase patient adherence to medication and improve appointment attendance rates [9]. Additionally, one analysis found that the majority of patients who received text messages prior to surgery reported a reduction in preoperative and postoperative anxiety, leading to higher patient satisfaction [10].

How Can Decision Makers Improve Communication in Their Hospitals?

When assessing communication in healthcare systems, organization leaders can analyze current protocols and practices and identify key points that can be standardized to maximize efficiency. This is not necessarily a one-time event but rather an ongoing practice where needs are continually addressed. Administrators should have regular meetings with clinicians in order to collect feedback and brainstorm potential changes. Rather than focusing on individuals, these meetings can bring people together to focus on solving common goals such as improving patient care [5].

Administrators should make sure to get feedback from people in multiple roles within the organization. Many healthcare organizations operate with hierarchies in place. People at the top of the hierarchy – traditionally, physicians – may be less likely to perceive communication problems. People who are part of lower levels may not feel comfortable speaking up or may be afraid of retaliation [5]. Decision-makers should show that they value input from everyone in order to solve institutional issues.

The Role of Physicians and Nurses in Creating Effective Communication Changes

Unfortunately, many care providers are used to seeing poor communication within their health systems. However, raising issues to administrators and explaining the extent of a problem may help non-clinicians feel better prepared to make necessary changes. Clinical staff should take time to consider the types of improvements they’d like to see within their environments. For example, using electronic care team communication systems rather than overhead paging may lead to a quieter, more peaceful healing environment. Alternately, clinicians who notice that they spend a lot of time trying to locate other people can suggest improving access to colleagues through single-platform communications solutions.

Better Solutions Are Needed Now More Than Ever

In recent months, the importance of up-to-date technology has become increasingly apparent. While many healthcare organizations have previously underutilized telehealth capabilities, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to provide patients with up-to-date technological options. For example, telemedicine visits rose by 683% in one large New York-based healthcare system between early March and mid-April 2020 [11]. Decreased access to doctors’ offices and hospitals has underscored the importance of better patient and care team communication strategies.

Clinicians and non-clinicians alike can play an important role in shaping care team messaging systems within their organizations. Don’t know where to start? To better understand how to identify and prioritize communications problems within your healthcare organization, download our eBook, “The State of Healthcare Communications: A Survey of Healthcare Leaders and Patients”, below.

The State of Healthcare Communications Report

State of Healthcare Communications Report

 

References:

  1. Thomairy NA, Mummaneni M, Alsalamah S, Moussa N, Coustasse A. Use of Smartphones in Hospitals. Health Care Manag (Frederick). 2015 Oct-Dec;34(4):297-307. doi: 10.1097/HCM.0000000000000080
  2. Martin G, Khajuria A, Arora S, King D, Ashrafian H, Darzi A. The impact of mobile technology on teamwork and communication in hospitals: a systematic review. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2019;26(4):339-355. doi:10.1093/jamia/ocy175
  3. TigerConnect. The State of Healthcare Communications: A Survey of Healthcare Leaders and Patients. 2019-2020 Report. Available from https://pages.tigerconnect.com/State-of-Healthcare-Comms-Report-LP.html
  4. Dingley C, Daugherty K, Derieg MK, et al. Improving Patient Safety Through Provider Communication Strategy Enhancements. In: Henriksen K, Battles JB, Keyes MA, et al., editors. Advances in Patient Safety: New Directions and Alternative Approaches (Vol. 3: Performance and Tools). Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2008 Aug. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43663/
  5. O’Daniel M, Rosenstein AH. Professional Communication and Team Collaboration. In: Hughes RG, editor. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2008 Apr. Chapter 33. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2637/
  6. Flin R, Fletcher G, McGeorge P, Sutherland A, Patey R. Anaesthetists’ attitudes to teamwork and safety. Anesthesia. 2003;58(3):233-242. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2044.2003.03039.x
  7. The Joint Commission. Inadequate hand-off communication. Sentinel Alert Event. 2017;58. Available from https://www.jointcommission.org/-/media/tjc/documents/resources/patient-safety-topics/sentinel-event/sea_58_hand_off_comms_9_6_17_final_(1).pdf?db=web&hash=5642D63C1A5017BD214701514DA00139.
  8. Uy C, Lopez J, Trinh-Shevrin C, Kwon SC, Sherman SE, Liang PS. Text Messaging Interventions on Cancer Screening Rates: A Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(8):e296. Published 2017 Aug 24. doi:10.2196/jmir.7893
  9. Mbuagbaw L, Mursleen S, Lytvyn L, Smieja M, Dolovich L, Thabane L. Mobile phone text messaging interventions for HIV and other chronic diseases: an overview of systematic reviews and framework for evidence transfer. BMC Health Serv Res. 2015;15:33. Published 2015 Jan 22. doi:10.1186/s12913-014-0654-6
  10. Newton L, Sulman C. Use of text messaging to improve patient experience and communication with pediatric tonsillectomy patients. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2018;113:213-217. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2018.07.048
  11. Mann DM, Chen J, Chunara R, Testa PA, Nov O. COVID-19 transforms health care through telemedicine: Evidence from the field. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2020;27(7):1132-1135. doi:10.1093/jamia/ocaa072

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