- AHRQ recommends clinicians consider communication when sharing health information with patients
- Clinicians could benefit from heightening awareness of the way they communicate amongst their care teams
- There are several opportunities to improve care team communication
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recommends that clinicians consider health literacy and utilize health literacy precautions with all patients. These precautions help with comprehension and retention of clinical information and can impact patients’ abilities to manage their health. However, these precautions lead me to ask: do we as clinicians apply as much consideration to the way we communicate with our colleagues as we do with our patients? How often do we evaluate and consider our own care team communication?
Care team communication, as evidence shows, can directly impact patient safety events and outcomes. So, it seems imperative that we would make clinical communication a priority. Yet, in my experience, clinicians frequently create shorthand, speak in acronyms, and communicate using a variety of tools that can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and mistakes.
There’s undoubtedly opportunity for improvement.
Considerations for Improved Care Team Communication
Care team communication is often a topic of consideration for healthcare organizations. We create committees, come up with policies, and often revisit the same committees and the same policies every year, quarter, and sometimes even more frequently.
Why? Well, because clinical communication is important, but because there are often break downs in care team communication that require examination and applying solutions.
When thinking of care team communication, I often harken back to three key points:
- What Applies to Patients Should Apply to Clinicians
Every care team member deserves my empathy, my attention, and my respect.
- Too Many Acronyms
Clinicians are often focused on being as efficient as possible. While many of the acronyms we utilize in medicine are widely understood and appropriate, others are not – and the trend of creating and communicating in acronyms can have consequences.
For example, one health system created a DART team (Difficult Airway Response Team). Unknowingly, however, the health system had another DART team (Detection and Response Team). When a patient needs a quick intubation, is it clear which DART team you should call? And is it necessary for either team to utilize an acronym?
We often think shorthand saves time, and in some cases it may. But if that shorthand is not universally known, care team members are left to ask for clarification (taking more time), or they may act on assumed knowledge and make unnecessary mistakes – mistakes that can create delays in care and put patients at risk.
And while some of the acronyms clinicians create are amusing, we should take a thoughtful look at the sheer volume of acronyms we utilize. It’s within our power to be as concise as possible while still being as clear as possible.
- Care Team Communication Can’t Be Siloed
It’s the reason why best practice indicates physicians and nurses should both be present for patient rounds – we’re a team, and everyone should be hearing and discussing the same information at the same time. Nothing is left to be relayed to a care team member. If anything is misunderstood, we have an opportunity to address it before proceeding with patient care.
In other words, we can’t allow for care team communication to be siloed. A large barrier of this is technology. Despite being one of the most innovative industries, we still deploy fragmented and outdated communication technology that silos care team communication. Physicians shouldn’t communicate with one tool, nurses communicate on another, and then communicate together through yet another device. All clinicians should communicate using the same methodology. It streamlines communication, mitigates miscommunication, and leads to better teamwork and patient care.
If clinicians can take the care to consider care team communication as much as patient communication, we will set ourselves and our patients up for success.