Clinical communication refers to the manner in which patient information is shared in a healthcare setting. There are many different methods — from email to phone calls to in-person meetings. When a patient’s care is transferred to another team or provider, effective clinical communication means that all relevant information is included and easily accessible. However, not all clinical communication is efficient. A study found that hospital employees tended to rely on synchronous methods of communication, including unexpected meetings with fellow employees and phone calls. These types of communication can be disruptive and even lead to errors.
How can clinical communication tools help?
Whether via a phone call or a chance meeting in the hallway, clinical communication can become compromised if important information is not recorded. Clinical communication platforms can help in this process by keeping all relevant information in a single tool — messages, EHRs (electronic health records), call logs, and any notes among providers. While investing in technology is essential for any healthcare team, it’s important to understand the strengths and downsides of clinical communication platforms to see how to ultimately improve patient care.
What are the different types of clinical collaboration?
There are four main types of clinical communication:
Pre-phase: Secure messaging among teams. Text messaging allows for easy communication among healthcare professionals. In this type of communication, a doctor can relay instructions to a nurse, then check on test results in the same platform. When it comes to patient information and keeping data safe, it’s important to use a secure messaging platform to ensure your organization remains HIPAA-compliant. You should also check that your messaging platform has the following capabilities:
Group messaging abilities
Great security policies
Phase 1: Role-based messaging. When a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit needs assistance from a neurologist, he or she should simply be able to select “neurologist” in the communication solution rather than looking up a list of neurologists and then having to determine which physician is on-call. Role-based messaging in a communication platform saves time, which can greatly improve patient outcomes.
Phase 2: Interdisciplinary healthcare communication. Communication between hospital networks needs to be organized and accessible. Clinical communication solutions can help manage the flurry of emails, phone calls, EHR information, lab results, and meetings between departments by keeping all relevant content accessible in a single platform. When it comes to transferring a patient to another facility or expanding a patient’s care between hospitals, mistakes can be expensive and difficult to address. Patients cannot always remember when and with which frequency they need to take their medication, and family members may not always be available for questions. Keeping all relevant information available to staff in a single platform reduces confusion and even embarrassment.
Phase 3: Virtual care and communication with patients. Thanks to improved telehealth tools, it’s now possible to hold effective virtual appointments using video and voice rather than requiring the traditional in-person appointment. It’s also easy for providers and patients to communicate via video, voice, and text in a secure system in-between appointments, rather than waiting for a visit to ask sometimes time-sensitive questions or to follow-up after medical procedures.
In short, good clinical communication can help your healthcare team avoid mix-ups and oversights while providing the best possible care to patients.
What are the limitations of a clinical communication platform?
A clinical communication and collaboration platform can be a great help, but it can’t fix everything. Here are some communication issues that may need to be addressed outside a technology solution:
Knowledge gaps. Technology can streamline communication among nurses, physicians, and patients, but it can’t on its own effectively recommend a course of treatment or diagnose a patient. Clinical communication platforms can improve collaboration among professional teams and provide access to EHR data to aid in a diagnosis, while also reducing the time to begin treatment.
Team morale. Healthcare workers are part of a team. Clinical communication software can improve morale and provide a platform for sometimes overlooked members of clinical teams to speak up, such as when nurses disagree with a physician’s course of treatment. Technology still requires user input, so it can’t replace or entirely prevent pressure when it comes to power dynamics.
Patients aren’t medically trained. Patients don’t always remember their medication name, possible drug interactions, or even the name of their disease. Technology can help remind people of some of these details, but it doesn’t make a patient fluent in medical jargon. Doctors and staff who use secure texting or telehealth to communicate with patients must remember to provide clear and helpful information. Good, accessible communication between medical staff and patients can aid in some common issues, especially when it comes to medication or care plan adherence, which can lead to improved outcomes.
Cross-cultural considerations. Communication between doctors and patients is directly related to how satisfied a patient is with his or her care. Healthcare providers also need to consider the different socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds of their patients. Religious beliefs, family dynamics, trust in the healthcare system, language fluency, and sexual or gender issues can all impact effective care. If patients don’t speak English as their native language, small inconsistencies can lead to major issues when it comes to medication adherence and even showing up at the right time and place for an appointment. Efforts should be made to treat each patient based on his or her specific needs rather than applying the same care without any consideration for the patient’s unique background.
Societal inequities. Technology in medicine can’t directly address societal problems or medical inequities. Implicit bias continues to be a major issue for physicians. Technology and clinical communication platforms are great tools for improving clarity during the course of a patient’s treatment, but can’t be expected to “fix” a provider’s internalized beliefs. In addition, implementing a great clinical communication platform only helps patients already seeking and receiving care. Patients failing to seek healthcare due to a lack of trust in the system won’t benefit.
How to improve communication challenges
The healthcare industry faces many challenges when it comes to providing consistently great care. It can be difficult to coordinate teams to address patient needs, and then keep patients on track with their treatment plans. Nurses note that good communication is critical in providing the best care to patients and keeping the entire healthcare system running smoothly.
A study on introducing methods to improve communication focused on seven key factors:
Technology, health information technology, and electronic medical records (EMRs) and organization
Coordinating treatment communication from beginning to end of a care plan
Communication during transition periods as the patient is moved between departments or hospitals
Knowledge gaps and experience gaps within the healthcare team, especially between providers of different ages, cultures, or specialties
Solutions for healthcare teams as an entire entity including access to EMRs and patient care checklists
Nurses need to be apprised of any changes to orders and changes to the patient’s care plan
Responsibility in the organization when it comes to errors and any miscommunication
As we’ve discussed, technology can address most of these points, and many providers look to technology to improve patient care overall. When it’s possible to go back to notes or documented changes to a treatment plan, medical errors are reduced. Further, since most diseases are complex and multi-faceted, a well-rounded approach to treatment may involve specialists ranging from cardiologists to dieticians to physical therapists to psychologists. A centralized communication platform makes it easy for each individual provider to securely share information and collaborate in delivering the best outcome for the patient.
Is there an ideal solution?
Clinical communication and collaboration platforms have continued to advance. Not only can they help in improving communication among healthcare teams, but they can also lead to more collaboration between departments, time and cost savings, and better patient care. In fact, TigerConnect customers saved 75 percent in transportation time, thereby contributing to approximately 6.2 million dollars in savings. To learn how our clinical communication platform can help your organization, request a demo today.
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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.