Signs of a Broken Healthcare Communication System

Signs Your Care Teams Are In Need of a Clinical Communication Solutions Overhaul

Although many advances in communications technology have been made, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt them. Many healthcare systems still rely on outdated technology and inefficient communication tools, and this often negatively impacts patient care. Communication failures are involved in a wide variety of medical errors, treatment delays, and postoperative complications [1]. When healthcare systems invest in effective clinical communication solutions, they can increase staff productivity and provide better quality patient care.

Signs of a Broken Healthcare Communication System

Many non-clinical staff members underestimate the prevalence of communication problems and fail to realize how often failed communication creates bottlenecks in patient care. Some signs that your organization may need to invest in improved clinical communication solutions include [2]:

Communication technology is outdated. Data from a recent survey shows that 89 percent of healthcare organizations use fax machines and 39 percent use pagers [2]. These older forms of communication can be incredibly inefficient. One study conducted at a community teaching hospital found that physicians routinely spent over an hour per day using paging systems, while nurses spent an average of two hours. This could lead to a loss of over $17,000 in productivity costs over the span of a month [3]. Furthermore, 92 percent of healthcare workers in one study reported that they felt that mobile communication systems should be used in place of pagers [4]. Switching to more efficient communication measures can help your organization operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Multiple forms of communication exist throughout the same healthcare system. Healthcare workers in different roles or different departments often use different types of technology, even within the same organization. For example, physicians and nurses are more likely to use secure messaging, and allied health care providers and staff outside the hospital are more likely to use landline phones [2]. Employing multiple modes of communication at once can lead to inefficiencies and confusion over the best way to reach certain colleagues. In fact, over one-third of healthcare workers say it’s hard to communicate with other staff [2].

People in your organization are making medical errors due to problems with communication. Recent estimates have found that medical errors are the third-highest cause of death within the United States [5]. Problems with communication systems can lead to medical errors if important information is unavailable or misinterpreted, care providers receive unclear instructions, or a patient’s changes in status are not made clear [1].

Patient care is frequently delayed. Larger healthcare organizations tend to experience more bottlenecks in patient care. These bottlenecks might manifest as long wait times for consults or delayed discharges, which result from inefficiencies within a communication system [2].

Patients are frustrated with the quality of their care. Patients notice inefficiencies, and nearly three-fourths of patients report feeling frustrated by issues such as long wait times and insufficient time spent with their doctor. Hospital staff often underestimate how often patients notice these issues [2].

Elements of an Effective Communication System

Choosing the right clinical communication solution can play a large role in making healthcare organizations more efficient, successful, and cost-effective. There are several things healthcare leaders may want to consider when adopting new communication tools within their organization.

Successful communication starts with providing patients with easy access to information before their visit. Sending out appointment reminders using simple, patient-friendly text messaging systems may help improve appointment no-show rates [6]. Healthcare organizations can also use this opportunity to provide patients with relevant details, directions, or pre-appointment instructions.

Communication systems that provide secure texting for healthcare organizations can also help care providers give patients clear follow-up instructions. Studies estimate that 40-80 percent of the information given to patients is forgotten immediately [7]. Health professionals can use secure messaging systems to summarize advice given during visits or remind patients about tasks that must be completed on a certain day. Additionally, messaging can help physicians and nurses collect more information from patients to help with care management. In patients with certain chronic health conditions, up to half of patient symptoms may go unreported [8]. Text messages can be used to encourage patient responses or questions. These telemedicine solutions can improve care compliance, reduce medical errors, and lower readmission rates [9,10]. Opening up two-way communication between patients and care providers allows patients to feel more empowered, operate more independently, and take ownership of their care.

A good clinical communication system can improve patient handoffs. Problems with communication are involved in over 70 percent of major medical errors, and many of these occur during handoffs between care providers [11]. Effective communication platforms can address this issue by allowing for easier access to all care team members, clearly designating who is in charge of each patient, and automatically messaging the group of providers when a patient is being transferred.

Communication systems are more effective when all needed personnel and information can be found in one place. Integrating all possible systems such as EHR and secure messaging saves time, reduces confusion, and leads to more productivity. When different departments use different messaging tools, organizations are 50 percent more likely to report problems with communication [2].

Communication systems should also have mobile capabilities so that personnel can be accessed anywhere, rather than care providers relying on phone tag or waiting for someone to respond to a page. Research has found that mobile solutions can lead to stronger, more efficient communication, enhance relationships between colleagues, and improve workflow [4]. Mobile technology allows for healthcare teams and information to be more easily accessible.

Investing in New Communications Technology

In order to consider how communications can be improved at your health organization, first analyze your current system. Where are the bottlenecks? Are certain types of mistakes or medical errors frequently being made? By improving communications organization-wide, you may be able to simultaneously accomplish several goals, such as increased productivity, cost savings, fewer medical errors, and improved staff morale [1].

In order to get an accurate picture of your current state of communications, get feedback from employees in different roles within the organization. Give every person a voice in order to maximize the number of different perspectives you hear. Having healthcare teams weigh in on problems and solutions may lead to greater staff compliance with new clinical communication systems.

To learn more about why a collaboration platform is essential for efficient telehealth solutions and improved clinical communication, download our E-Book, “Why Every Healthcare System Needs a Clinical Communication Platform.”

Why a Collaboration Platform is Essential

Why a Collaboration Platform is Essential



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Will O’Connor, M.D. is the Chief Medical Information Officer at TigerConnect. As a physician executive with more than 20 years of healthcare experience, Will is a passionate advocate for rapid advancement across the healthcare industry.