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Five Issues with Hospital Communications Systems: How to Improve Them

If you’ve ever shown up for a meeting or event only to find out it was canceled, you probably felt frustrated that you weren’t notified in time. In our daily lives, missed connections result in wasted time and opportunities.

In a hospital setting, a missed message is more than just inconvenient. Communication failures in health systems significantly impact the quality of patient care and steal time from busy healthcare workers. When even one member of a patient care team is left out of the communication loop, the staff and the patient suffer the consequences.

CRICO Strategies (a division of the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions) reviewed more than 23,000 medical malpractice claims to understand the risks of communication problems in healthcare. The results illustrate how failures in hospital communication systems can cause patient harm.

Here are some alarming findings from the CRICO study:

  • Communication breakdowns were present in 7,149 of the 23,000 claims studied.
  • Of the 7,149 cases identified, 1,700 of them resulted in patient deaths.
  • The estimated financial cost of these cases is $1.7 billion.
  • Communication issues were most commonly associated with surgery (27%), followed by general medicine (13%), nursing (9%), and obstetrics (5%).
  • Communication problems occurred in both the ambulatory (48%) and inpatient settings (44%).
  • 57% of the cases involved provider-to-provider communication. 55% involved provider-to-patient communication.

 

Why is communication important in a hospital?

Given the findings of the CRICO report, it is clear that every effort should be made to implement comprehensive communication systems in every hospital and healthcare center in the country.

With the move toward a team care approach and the complexity of roles for health care providers, communication between multiple people who are all working at different times has become commonplace in today’s hospitals. These factors have both positive and negative effects on patient outcomes. For example, a patient with several conditions will benefit from the collaborative efforts of several specialists working together to provide comprehensive care. On the other hand, it can be difficult to coordinate communication between each of these individuals, which causes delays and miscommunications that can have adverse consequences for the patient. Every member of the team must have access to updated information during treatment to avoid undesirable outcomes.

According to the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, patient handoffs are a uniquely vulnerable moment in provider-to-provider communication. Shift changes and patient transfers are critical handoff events. The Joint Commission estimates that 80% of serious errors occur because of communication failures during patient handoffs. These errors could be avoided if nurses and other caregivers had accurate and up-to-date information at their fingertips.

The Halo Platform was designed to address these weaknesses in hospital communication systems; giving every member of the care team real-time access to accurate patient information. The Halo Platform is intuitive and easy to use, saving time and reducing user error. By reducing miscommunications and improving response times, Halo saves time and money, and enhances overall patient care.

Critical information in hospitals is delivered not only person-to-person via text messages and phone calls, but is also sourced from multiple clinical systems including the EHR, LIS, PACS, nurse call, and medical devices. The Halo Platform unifies critical information from all of these systems on a single, easy-to-use mobile app, so that no detail is ever left unread, unsent, or delayed.

 

Hospital Communication Systems: Five Problems with Hospital Communication Systems and How to Improve Them

1. Security Risks: Hospital communication involves private data and must be HIPAA compliant.

The problem

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires that all personal health information (PHI) be kept confidential. Violating HIPAA privacy laws can result in expensive fines and irreparable damage to public image.

The solution

Using a communication system that is designed for use in healthcare settings makes it easy to avoid inadvertent HIPAA violations by doctors, nurses, emergency caregivers, administrators, and other hospital staff. Halo’s proprietary software provides a private messaging system for healthcare workers that keeps every exchange HIPAA compliant. Information is secured by features like limited access for authorized personnel only, automatic update alerts for every team member, and one-way patient notifications. A proper communication system means hospital staff can spend less time worrying about HIPAA protocol and more time caring for patients.

2. Staff Scheduling Complications: It must account for complex and changing schedules.

The problem

The sheer number of staff members and provider groups practicing at any hospital makes for very complex scheduling. Healthcare professionals find it difficult to keep track of who is on call at any given time. This confusion leads to delayed and missed communications between staff. Time spent finding out who is on the schedule or who is on-call wastes valuable time.

The solution

Halo Health solves the communication problems inherent in complicated scheduling. The Halo Platform combines native centralized scheduling and team management functionality with users’ ability to update their availability on-the-fly in real-time (i.e. coverage swaps). The platform keeps track of every member of every team, so staff members don’t have to. For example, instead of wasting time discovering which cardiologist is available, a nurse can simply text the “cardiologist on-call” and the message will be delivered to the appropriate person. With Halo, every message gets to the right person at the right time.

3. Time-Sensitive Alerts: Real-time notifications are crucial to effective communication.

The problem

Outdated communication methods like pagers are inefficient and overly simplistic. Doctors’ days are busy and unpredictable – they can’t always respond to a page right away. The time it takes a doctor to receive and respond to a page means waiting around for information and too often includes several rounds of phone tag. Meanwhile, patient care is put on hold until medical staff has a chance to connect. This is at best a waste of resources, and at worst detrimental to the patient.

The solution

A real-time communication system, like Halo, eliminates missed and delayed notifications. Doctors and nurses can provide detailed replies when it is convenient for them. Halo’s real-time functionality means an end to the “hurry up and wait” approach to hospital communications.

4. Systems Integration: It must easily fit into the existing system and offer simple access for users.

The problem

A platform that does not integrate easily into the existing technology ecosystem or is difficult to use can be counterproductive. Technical glitches and low user adoption are common complaints about hospital communication systems. Instead of improving healthcare, disjointed system integration can create confusion and frustration that lead to errors and oversights.

The solution

Implementing the Halo Platform is easy for administrators and users. It works with all major clinical hospital systems (the EHR, nurse call, medical devices, etc.) and uses VoIP calling and cloud-based software for a seamless transition. Users can access Halo from hospital workstations or an app on their mobile device, so they get important updates no matter where they are. The Halo implementation and customer care team will help with the initial set-up and is available 24/7 to offer technical support and answer questions.

5. Patient Notifications: Patients need clear and accurate information to best manage their care.

The problem

Patients and their caregivers rely on timely and accurate information from doctors to manage their conditions during and after a hospital stay. Whether it is an update to the status of their condition, details about medications, or instructions for care, miscommunications between doctors and their patients dramatically increase the occurrence of adverse outcomes. Patient portals and other traditional patient communication methods have improved patient engagement but are not sufficient for all cases.

The  solution

The Halo Platform includes a patient messaging feature that providers can use to send real-time information to their patients, and vice versa. This allows a quick and easy way for doctors to communicate without giving out their personal phone number. Patients get the info they need to better manage their care in a text message format that they are familiar with.

 

Final thoughts

Experts agree that patient outcomes and provider satisfaction are enhanced by modern hospital communication systems that make sharing patient data easy. Halo Health offers a user-friendly and HIPAA compliant platform that solves many of the problems in healthcare communications. Halo’s seamless integration and superior customer support team make it easy for every hospital to improve its communication system, save time, reduce errors, and offer better patient care.