What is Clinical Communication & How to Implement the Best Practices
Patients entrust their health to the doctors, nurses, and specialists who care for them. Those same doctors and nurses must trust each other to share accurate patient data promptly. This process of exchanging patient information is healthcare communication. It is not limited to a specific subset of people, nor is it confined to a particular communication method. Whether it be a doctor sharing patient updates with a care team, a clinic transferring patient records to another facility, or a nurse sharing vital info during a patient handoff, effective communication is a critical component of proper patient care.
Clinical communication may be intra-facility (occurring within one hospital or medical facility) or inter-facility (occurring between two or more medical facilities). It involves every person who handles patient information from doctors, nurses, emergency staff, specialists, and lab technicians to administrators and department heads. Every individual in the chain of communication must ensure that the info they pass along is concise, accurate, secure, and up to date. Errors, oversights, and missed communications have severe consequences for patients who rely on healthcare systems to work. One failure along the chain can mean the difference between life and death. Aside from the human impact that can occur, there is also a financial cost and the expenditure of valuable resources like time and manpower. In a recent study of over 23,000 malpractice claims, CRICO Strategies found that roughly one-third of those cases were rooted in a healthcare communication failure. The researchers estimate that these failures cost $1.7 billion in monetary loss.
Human error and technical glitches can (and do) occur with alarming frequency. Good healthcare communication can reduce the occurrence of errors and contributes to better patient outcomes.
Some examples of clinical communication events are:
- Collaborating with care team members
A large portion of clinical communication occurs between the doctors, nurses, and specialists who care for a patient while they are in the hospital. They may share diagnoses, transfer charts during shift changes, alert each other to any changes in the patient’s status, and ask questions that are relevant to the treatment plan.
- Sharing patient information across departments
Anytime a patient is transferred between departments, they will come under the care of a new set of medical staff. During each of these handoffs, all of that patient’s data will change hands and form the base of the new treatment plan. It is crucial that each department communicates fully with the other to guarantee a continuum of care and avoid any oversights that could result in an adverse outcome.
- Coordinating care between facilities
Another example of a healthcare communication event is when a patient’s information is transferred to another clinic or doctor’s office. When a hospital, lab, or specialist forwards results to a primary care doctor, they are actively involved in healthcare communication.
- Informing and instructing patients and caregivers
Clinical communication also includes the exchange of information between doctors and their patients. Post-surgical instructions, prescription information, and recommendations for follow-up care are all examples of healthcare communication. Because patients are not medical experts, doctors must offer thorough and easy to understand advice that will help patients manage their health.
How Do Smartphones Impact Healthcare Communications?
According to a recent study by Kantar Media, four out of five physicians use their smartphones at work. As mobile devices become an integral part of healthcare, regulatory authorities and medical system manufacturers are racing to keep up with the growing trend.
Physicians Practice 2018 Mobile Health Survey reported that most smartphone technology in a clinical setting was used to facilitate communication between medical staff. Almost 70% of hospitals surveyed report using medical apps as a communication method for staff.
- Smartphone apps increase patient engagement
The use of electronic platforms in the healthcare industry extends to patients as well. Most major hospitals offer smartphone apps and eHealth patient portals to increase patient engagement and encourage people to actively participate in their medical care. Accenture reports that two-thirds of the largest U.S. hospitals provide mobile apps for patients.
The American public is almost as enthusiastic as medical centers in their use of mobile phone apps and patient portals. Most people have used their smartphone to find medical information, track their personal health goals, record medical data like heart rate or blood sugar levels, and exchange messages and files with their primary care doctor. A recent Pew Research Center Study found that 62% of respondents have downloaded an mHealth app. The popularity of medical apps has surpassed mobile banking, job search apps, and educational platforms. Smartphone apps conserve resources and provide unprecedented access to healthcare
Smartphone apps used in healthcare settings save time and money that hospitals spend gathering, documenting, and sharing data. They also improve patient outcomes by reducing errors, eliminating delays in communication between caregivers, and providing remote access to specialists and other healthcare professionals. The most underserved patients in the most understaffed hospitals have the most to gain from app-based clinical communication platforms.
How can healthcare communication be improved?
Medical experts around the world continue to study the impact that healthcare communication has on patient outcomes and develop strategies to improve the efficiency of information exchange processes among healthcare workers. Large organizations like The Center for Disease Control (CDC), The Joint Commission, and The World Health Organization (WHO), along with smaller groups in the private and educational sectors carry out research and surveys that identify the flaws in clinical communication systems. From their collective efforts, we can draw the following conclusions about how we can improve healthcare communication.
- Streamline information sources
Bring voice, text, and alerts together in one single mobile application to reduce confusion and allow staff to prioritize alerts.
- Collaborate in real-time
Make it easier for people to connect with each other by offering real-time messaging threads that immediately alert all relevant personnel to updates.
- Eliminate security risks
Use HIPAA compliant technology to protect patients, medical professionals, and facilities from the harmful consequences of violating federal privacy laws.
- Unify systems
Integrate existing hospital systems with mobile apps to create a comprehensive clinical communication platform that makes it easy to access and regulate electronic health records (EHR) across the facility.
- Monitor communications
Implement a regulatory process that examines communication data to identify opportunities for improvement.
What is HIPAA and Why is it important?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federally regulated set of standards that govern how protected health information (PHI) is handled. The legislation was enacted to protect patients from privacy breaches involving their personal medical data. PHI includes all forms of personal data, including electronic records (ePHI).
What types of information does HIPAA cover?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule explicitly defines 18 types of PHI that must be adequately protected. Here is a list of those data points along with examples for each type:
- Names – first, last, middle initial
- Locations – hospitals, labs, clinics, and private medical offices
- Dates – birth dates, date of death, treatment dates
- Phone Numbers – patient and emergency contact numbers
- Fax numbers – personal or business
- Email addresses & social media handles
- Social Security Numbers (SSN) & Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN)
- Medical record numbers & patient IDs
- Health insurance account info
- Account numbers – hospital account, patient portal ID
- Certificate/license numbers – driver's license, professional licenses
- Vehicle identifiers – registration info, license plate numbers
- Device identifiers and serial numbers – medical implants, serial numbers
- Web Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) – web page addresses
- Internet Protocol (IP) addresses – the numerical identifier for personal computers and mobile devices
- Biometric identifiers – fingerprints, retinal scans, voice recordings
- Photographic images – photos, videos, x-rays
- Any other unique identifiers – data that could reveal a patient’s identity
Which members of the hospital staff must comply with HIPAA policies?
All of them. Every person who handles PHI must comply with HIPAA standards at all times. Physicians, nurses, EMTs, lab technicians, administrators, hospital executives, maintenance staff, IT departments, everyone that may have access to patient info should be fully trained to comply with HIPAA rules.
The HIPAA Security Rule offers specific directions for any communication or sharing of health records that contain PHI at technical, administrative, and physical levels. This means that the hospital or clinic must ensure the security of its electronic systems, is responsible for the actions of every staff member, and is obligated to secure its buildings and off-site storage facilities.
HIPAA penalties can be assessed at an organizational and/or an individual level, so it is in everyone’s best interest to remain diligent and avoid violating HIPAA standards.
What are the penalties for violating the HIPAA Minimum Necessary Standard?
The penalties for violating HIPAA policy range from monetary fines to reputation damage to criminal charges. Appearing on the publicly available violation list causes public relation issues for hospitals and can have a lasting impact on an individual’s professional career.
Civil penalties are categorized into four tiers depending on the severity of the offense. Tier 1 carries the lowest penalties and Tier 4 carries the harshest.
Tier 1 – Not aware of the violation, acting with due diligence ($100 to $50,000 each offense, $25,000 yearly max)
Tier 2 – Expected to have known of the violation if acting with due diligence ($1,000 to $50,000 each offense, $100,000 yearly max)
Tier 3 – Willful offense corrected within 30 days ($10,000 to $50,000 each offense, $250,000 yearly max)
Tier 4 – Willful offense not corrected within 30 days ($50,000 each offense, $1.5 million yearly max)
Criminal charges are also possible in the most egregious cases. Penalties include fines, restitution, and prison sentences of up to 5 years. The Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice handle HIPAA violations that meet the threshold for criminal prosecution.
How Does a Clinical Communication & Collaboration Platform Ensure HIPAA Compliant Messaging?
Complying with the HIPAA Minimum Necessary Standard
Healthcare providers must take reasonable steps to adhere to the Minimum Necessary Standard. This federally enforced standard covers electronic and digital personal health information (ePHI) and sets rules that must be observed when communicating ePHI. Organizations that handle ePHI must do the following:
- Ensure that electronic health record systems document and categorize all PHI
- Logs of access events and attempted access events must be kept and, if they can, provide alerts when unauthorized access attempts are identified
- Create role-based access restrictions that limit who can see, send, and receive patient data
- Offer employee training programs and implement a disciplinary policy for non-compliance
- Limit information sharing to that which is required to complete the immediate task
- Audit access permissions and implement periodic reviews to identify improper or unauthorized use of restricted data
- Document the organization’s response to known violations, and list any disciplinary actions
Halo’s Clinical Communication & Collaboration platform ensures compliance with the Minimum Necessary Standard by automating technical and administrative tasks to eliminate user error. Halo protects users by:
- Date and time-stamping every communication
- Keeping sent/read receipts
- Automating recipient lists to only include specific care team members
- Built-in security and encryption protocols
- Escalation alerts in the case that the intended recipient does not respond
- Message threads organized by patient
- Database of Halo authenticated physicians
What is CC&C?
Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) is a relatively new term that refers to a comprehensive clinical communication system that unifies all aspects of the information chain to ensure better medical care for patients and a superior experience for medical staff.
It differs from traditional medical voice and text messaging platforms because it seeks to increase efficiency within a larger scope of systems, rather than limiting use to just mobile messaging.
CC&C implements the recommendations that watchdog organizations like The Joint Commission have prescribed such as unifying all key communication channels on a single-source, real-time platform to eliminate security risks and empower analysts to identify opportunities for improvement.
What is Clinical Communication & How to Implement the Best Practices
Integrating a new Clinical Communication & Collaboration platform can help save time and resources when executed properly. To ensure the most effective results and the best experience for end-users, consider the following best practices.
- Ensure Security
Breaches of privacy data are common news headlines these days, and the organizations involved are often held liable for the leak. HIPAA regulations are also an important factor when setting up a hospital communication system. It is easy for staff to inadvertently violate HIPAA laws, which could result in stiff penalties and continued monitoring.
An efficient Clinical Communication & Collaboration platform adheres to the rigorous standards set by HIPAA policies and by the Health Information Trust (HITRUST) Alliance. HITRUST is an independent testing organization that gives the Certified Security Framework (CSF) certification to organizations that meet their stringent standards. The Halo Platform is HITRUST certified so that patient data is always kept secure.
- Unify Integration
If the CC&C platform is not integrated properly with existing systems, users will experience technical problems and will be less likely to adopt the new technology. Ensuring that components of both systems are combined into one comprehensive platform will ensure a streamlined experience for end-users.
The Halo Platform works seamlessly with most existing hospital communication systems; connecting the EHR, PBX, nurse call, and medical device systems into one user-friendly platform. Staff can access the data from any of these sources from any location and on any mobile device. Halo’s cloud-based software means no on-site installations, so every team member has quick and easy access to the real-time information they need to provide the best care for patients. The technical implementation and support team will execute the initial set-up to ensure that the system is running properly without disruption to normal hospital operations.
- Provide Thorough User Training
A tool is only as good as its usability and the person using it. If the medical staff doesn’t understand how to use the system, they are more likely to use it improperly or avoid using it altogether. Importantly, the Halo Platform is designed to intuitively mirror the usability of common smartphone apps. If a person knows how to text and use other basic smartphone apps, they will have no problem learning how to use Halo.
Even so, it is still important to offer thorough and ongoing training opportunities for all staff members and give them the resources they need to use the platform to its fullest extent. That is why Halo Platform users have 24/7 access to a knowledgeable and friendly customer care team. Ongoing support is available to solve any technical problems and answer user questions.
What Types of Medical Facilities Benefit From Clinical Communication & Collaboration Platforms?
A full-function CC&C system saves time and money for any medical organization. More importantly, it improves patient care by reducing errors and enables staff to access the information they need in real time. Whether in a large hospital or a smaller clinic setting, a CC&C platform will boost efficiency across departments, ensure HIPAA compliance, and contribute to positive patient outcomes.
The most successful CC&C deployments are implemented across an entire health system and broader care community, connecting all touchpoints in a patient’s care continuum, from preventative checkups and physician consultations in the ambulatory setting, to emergency and scheduled admissions for inpatient care, to ongoing care and rehabilitation for the elderly and patients with chronic conditions.
Halo’s cloud-based software and streamlined installation process make it easy to integrate a comprehensive and secure CC&C platform into any existing technology across the myriad of facility locations within today’s complex health system. Ongoing 24-hour support ensures that any issues are resolved immediately so there is never any down-time. The Halo Clinical Communication & Collaboration platform is a smart choice for care organizations of all types and sizes.