- Improve hospital communication to positively impact clinical and financial outcomes
- Real-time information can help inform the right person or role about critical health information
- Connecting with physicians outside of your hospital can improve care coordination
Clear, expedient communication is critical in healthcare. Without it, clinical, operational, and financial outcomes are at-risk. And, at a more granular-level, it can quite literally be the difference between a life-saving action and a life-threatening mistake.
In fact, a recent study concluded that one of the key contributing factors to medical errors is poor communication – and that those errors result in approximately 400,000 cases of preventable harm, 100,000 preventable deaths, and cost approximately $20 billion year. At a time when healthcare organizations are highly focused on the shift to quality, this trend is simply untenable.
So, what’s the answer to curbing poor communication?
Well, for many healthcare leaders, the initial answer is EHRs – and while understandable, we’ve discussed the limitations of this conclusion in the past.
Instead, it is the healthcare organizations that utilize these three simple steps that see notable improvements in hospital communication:
Step One to Improve Hospital Communication: Provide actionable, real-time information – responsibly.
Clinicians operate based on information – it is the lifeblood of care delivery. The more accurate and timely information they have, the better chance there is for a positive patient outcome.
Yet, in most hospitals, healthcare staff is inundated with phone calls, pages, alerts, and electronic health record (EHR) messages. It is information overload and has several negative consequences, such as less time spent on patient care and an increase in clinical burnout. But, perhaps most notably, information overload causes staff to become numb to notifications – even when the information within that call, alert, page or message is critically important.
For example, a 2019 study found 8,975 alarms occurred during 25 consecutive procedures, or that there were 1.2 alarms every minute. You can almost feel the distraction from simply reading that finding.
Limiting the noise and optimizing information delivery is essential to hospital communication and, overall, hospital success. Define what information needs to be pushed immediately and what kind of messages can be delivered on a delay and build workflows that complement those decisions.
Step Two to Improve Hospital Communication: Build messaging around roles, not individual people
One of the biggest barriers to effective hospital communication is knowing who to contact. For example, during an average three-day hospital stay, a patient may encounter 20 to 30 different roles, and the individuals filling those roles change approximately three or four times. It’s difficult for patients to keep straight who is who – and it’s not simple for clinicians, either.
In many health systems, staff are forced to think of a role they need to contact, find a call sheet, identify the individual and the appropriate contact information, page that individual, and then wait for a call back – a workflow that is begging for optimization. And often that workflow results in finding out that the person paged is not, in fact, on-call. Waiting to get the right information from the right person in order to make the best care decisions can add more than an hour to a 12-hour shift. Again, as we focus on quality, this type of workflow simply cannot be maintained.
Improved hospital communication begins with identifying this issue, and then utilizing technology that allows staff to message roles or teams directly. For example, a message can be sent to “Charge Nurse on 3 West” or “On-Call Cardiologist,” or “Difficult Airway Team,” and the right individuals receive the essential information, instantly. It is this simple in other industries – there’s no reason it should be more complicated in an industry that saves human life.
With role-based hospital communication, staff spend less time waiting for information and more time focusing on patient care – which leads to shorter hospital stays, faster transfers and discharges, and improved patient satisfaction.
Step Three to Improve Hospital Communication: Reach outside the hospital.
The ability to connect hospital staff to affiliated specialists, independent providers, and pharmacy partners improves care coordination. When a patient is admitted to the hospital, staff need to communicate with the entirety of a patient’s care team – regardless of location – to receive and deliver updates on recent care episodes, up-to-date medication lists, and other information that will improve inpatient care.
Breaking down the silos and empowering clinicians to communicate both within and outside of the hospital is key to improving hospital communication and, ultimately, outcomes. In fact, better care coordination has been proven to reduce hospital readmission rates – a key measure in quality improvement. It also allows health systems to strengthen ties with external partners and affiliates, which increases in-network referrals and creates new sources of revenue.
Clinical communication should not and cannot be complicated – too much depends on its success. Yet, it is often overlooked as a priority item for improvement and, particularly, investment. At the start of a new year, as hospitals assess their bottom-lines and make strategic plans, they will be best suited by following these three steps and investing in the power of improved hospital communication
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