During a four-day hospital stay, patients may interact with 50 different health professionals. Since so many people see the same patient, effective communication is necessary among healthcare teams.
Do you remember the game of telephone? The idea of it is for one player to come up with a message and whisper it in the ear of the second person. The second player then repeats the message to the third player, and so on. By the end of the game, the final player usually has a completely different message than what the first player started the game with.
The point of the game is to show that the team’s method of sharing information is ineffective. An easier way to get the message to everyone would be to say it out loud to the entire group, rather than passing it along between each person. Of course, that would ruin the game.
But it teaches a valuable lesson about communicating. Errors are likely to happen if you use a poor method to get your message to someone.
The same is true in healthcare when you have so many people who see each patient. Without successful communication, safety is at risk. There’s a lack of critical data and a higher chance of misinterpretation which may result in medical errors. There’s an estimated 80% of serious medical errors as a result of miscommunication among caregivers.
Effectively conveying information across staff helps with consistency. It keeps everyone updated about patients’ health and your health system workflows.
So how do you communicate between staff to ensure this happens? Here are nine ways to improve communication in healthcare providers.
Identify Current Methods
The first thing you need to do is identify the current
methods used for communicating information. This includes how you share patient data and any other practice related updates.
Any method that staff use to access patient information is another way that they communicate
critical details. If you find that you have an overwhelming amount of these, it may be time to assess any challenges that there are.
Each messaging system between staff members such as email, phone calls, or employee portal
should also get identified. These might not transfer any private data, but they still communicate helpful updates from the facility.
Once you identify all of these, you can start to determine the pros and cons of each. It’s important to weigh these options since having so many people involved is already difficult. More people means more conversations as demonstrated in the following image.
And if these many conversations need to happen over multiple channels, information can get even more jumbled.
When determining the pros and cons, you’re
able to then assess barriers of communication at your practice. You may find
that some systems aren’t used often for them to be worth using at all.
Some forms will work better, while others are more challenging to use. It’s important to identify what the barrier is that’s causing these challenges. Maybe it’s the
form of technology your practice is using.
For example, using email in some situations may have more steps to ensure cybersecurity than using a HIPAA-compliant app. Or maybe there’s
an increase in workload with the method used. This can decrease their time spent with patients or lead to burnout from administrative workloads. Once you find and identify communication challenges, you can then start working to solve them.
Make Communication Part of Your Culture
Establishing effective communication starts with the culture in the workplace. Your staff needs to understand the value of exchanging information with each other.
If you don’t create a culture that promotes this, then staff won’t expect it from others. And
when there are lower expectations within your practice, then staff are less likely to strive for perfection.
But this is dangerous because when there are imperfect exchanges of information, there are
more likely to be medical errors. A lack of clarity causes misinterpretation which is one of the last things you want to happen with patient data.
Emphasizing the importance of communicating well sets the bar higher. This encourages all staff to make the best efforts. However, it’s important to find the right balance of having high versus low expectations.
Lower leads to a lack of effort and poor performance. But when they’re too high, it can cause work-related stress.
Yes, high expectations lead to improved performance as demonstrated by the Pygmalion effect. Although too much pressure from expectations can contribute to burnout.
Give Everyone a Voice
Part of creating this culture of encouragement is to give everyone a voice. This gives them the chance to share their input on how to improve communication.
Employees have more motivation when they feel like they’re heard. It reinforces that your
practice values them and their opinions or experiences. They also have more confidence to communicate with others when they know their value.
You can get them involved in a few different ways. Asking for feedback through surveys is an
easy way to gather everyone’s input. You can even do it anonymously for those who may not be as comfortable sharing their thoughts.
Using performance reviews is another way to speak with employees. It gives them the chance to get more comfortable talking to staff, especially superiors.
Staff meetings also boost communication efforts. Different departments, job duties, and shifts mean that not all coworkers are familiar with each other. Someone on a day-shift may
never meet the caregiver of the same patient on the night-shift.
This makes it difficult to effectively communicate when some people don’t even know who they
need to engage with. But holding meetings with everyone helps alleviate that challenge.
Find Ways that Technology can Help
Like I already mentioned, certain tools may be better or worse for sharing information within your practice. Once you evaluate any barriers within them, you can try solving these or replace them with improved options.
Different technologies have more useful capabilities geared towards your needs. An electronic health record system (EHR) may consolidate all patient information to make it easier to find
all of their data. There are HIPAA-compliant apps that allow messaging without the same cybersecurity risks as email, text, or phone calls.
At first, this may sound like just another cost to add to your health business. But secure messaging for medical professionals actually saves money in the long run. One study found that discharge times could decrease by 50% when conducted by secure text messaging. This would save each health practice an annual average of $557,253. And not only is it saving you money, but patients will be happy with leaving sooner.
Using HIPAA-compliant software to transmit data reduces some of the stress of protecting it. Health details are sensitive and can lead to a breach without proper protection. Choosing safe and secure tools takes some of the pressure off of you.
Encourage Mobile Collaboration
The statistic for secure text messaging shows the importance of going mobile with your facility’s options. It takes too much time for health professionals to check their email or computer systems between seeing many patients.
But mobile devices allow professionals to freely walk around and see patients while still having access to critical data.
Almost three-quarters of hospitals now allow bring-your-own-devices. The main drivers for this are easier team communication, cost savings, and workflow efficiencies.
People can quickly message and share critical details within seconds. This is especially necessary during emergencies or when a doctor is on-call.
One challenge with using mobile devices in hospitals is Wi-Fi and cellular coverage since some hospitals have dead zones. Another is the increased security concern especially when people
forget the BYOD policies. But this doesn’t mean that mobile collaboration is impossible.
Almost 80% of hospitals still use them because of their security and usability from anywhere in the hospital.
Streamline Communication Channels
With so many different channels that your practice may use, it’s important to streamline these. The more methods there are, the more complex they become.
If health professionals need to communicate the same details on a variety of platforms,
they’ll likely lose consistency. It’s also time consuming, so they may skip or slack on their efforts within some of these channels.
To simplify things, you should use a centralized system that consolidates data transmissions. The fewer systems that employees need to use, the more time they can save on administrative work. When each process works together, storing and transmitting data is more efficient.
Around 87% of physicians acknowledge that it’s “very” important to have access to patient medical records when needed. And a centralized system makes that possible.
Survey About Preferred Communication Methods
I mentioned that you can use surveys to help
give your employees a voice. Well, one of these surveys can specifically be about how they prefer to communicate.
This helps you through each of these other steps. If you have an idea about what works for them, it’s easier to evaluate your systems, identify pain points, and add new tools. If you notice
that there are methods that aren’t beneficial to anyone, it makes it easier to justify changing.
Prioritize Face-to-Face Interactions
Talking face-to-face is so much easier than through electronic channels. It involves minimal administrative work and you don’t need to worry about cybersecurity concerns. There’s also a smaller chance for misinterpretation when you’re talking to the person in real-time.
Having each relevant professional with the patient in person simplifies everything, too.
When the doctor and nurse can both see the patient and discuss care, they can better come up with a treatment plan.
Remember the telephone game I explained before? When you talk to people face-to-face, they’re more likely to receive the true intended message.
Poor communication in healthcare teams is harmful in the workplace. It causes staff to expect imperfect exchanges of information. A culture of low expectations and imperfection puts patients at risk for medical errors.
But effective communication has positive outcomes including:
Better flow of information
Boosted employee morale
Patient and family satisfaction
Shorter hospital stays
Staff can have more confidence in their work efforts and save time with efficient, secure systems. And patients can feel better with a changing staff if the health team communicates well enough to provide quality care.