How To Improve Communication In Healthcare

healthcare communication

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death, after cardiovascular disease and cancer. As per a study, around 251,000 deaths were reported annually in the U.S.A. due to medical errors. Reason for these deaths is miscommunication within the healthcare facilities.

Absence of clear communication hampers healthcare management system. For instance, a UC San Francisco report stated that more than quarter of admissions to hospitals could’ve been stopped if there would’ve been effective communication.

Good communication between caregivers, families, and patients is hard to achieve in today’s healthcare environment,” stated the American Hospital Association. Clinician’s capability to explain, empathize, and listen has a profound effect on patient’s outcome and satisfaction.

When not in care, healthcare providers consistent communication with patients assures safe outcomes and builds meaningful bonds. Read this piece to know about effective ways to improve communication in the healthcare sector – amongst healthcare professionals and with patients.

1. Mass Notification Systems (MNS)

Mass notification system is used to broadcast messages to healthcare professionals during emergency situations. There are two main benefits of using MNS – immediate notifications and tracking. A template message is shared with the healthcare team within the ecosystem through SMS, mail, or calls.

Messages don’t include PHI as broadcast notifications aren’t transmitted through secure channels. Once alerts are delivered, recipients acknowledge them and run reports.

MNS is being adopted by cities in the U.S.A as it’s beneficial to alert people during emergencies. For instance, Livonia has announced the launch of ‘CodeRED’, which is an emergency alert system.

Mass notification system consists of a tracking system which is equipped with RFID tags to track patients and equipment. Tracking feature is beneficial in institutions where patients wander off. For example, patients diagnosed with dementia or Schizophrenia living in care facilities.

Tags trigger notifications, thus alerting the healthcare providers about the location of equipment or patient.

2. HIPAA Compliant Messaging

HIPAA compliant texting assures secure exchange of patients’ information while communicating with healthcare providers. This resolves issues such as privacy, data storage, and transmission of messages in a standard format. HIPAA messaging ensures two-way communication, which wasn’t possible with pagers.

Applications with HIPAA compliance assure real-time connectivity and consultation with medical staff team. These apps are embedded with a presence feature that indicates whether doctors are on-call or unavailable.

All attributes enabled in HIPAA compliant texting are similar to the ones available on messaging apps. For instance, voice or picture attachments, notification alerts, visibility to participants only, and much more.

Normal messaging apps are avoided due to threat of cyber attacks. In November 2021, a convict was arrested  for targeting ten computers in the healthcare industry in the Alaska district. Hence, HIPAA compliance assures safe exchange of data when medical staff interact.

3. Automated On-Call Scheduling

Automated on-call schedules ensures 24/7 availability of medical staff for patient care. Only available doctors are contacted to avert burnouts for those resting or or leave. On-call scheduling tools assure that contact information is available when needed. Schedule configuration notifies about who is on call and ascertain fair distribution of workload.

On December 2021, OnPage Corporation, an incident management company based in Boston, announced it’s latest addition to it’s on-call scheduler. It’s novel fail-safe capability offers zero error coverage when schedules are populated faultily. It assures that on-call team is notified automatically, thus ascertaining that no incidents goes unanswered.

4. Communication Between Healthcare Professionals

Communication between medical staff is broadly classified into inter-hospital and intra-hospital interactions. Inter-hospital involves sharing of data between healthcare facilities. It consists of transferring patients, exchanging medical data, equipment, and organs between healthcare institutions.

Inadequate interactions between facilities prevents access to medical files, thus creating the need for duplicate tests. A study by CHIDS stated that poor communication between hospitals costs healthcare industry around $12 billion yearly.

Intra-hospital encompasses interactions during surgery schedules, room exchanges, assigning tests, or setting appointments. Analysis of communication gap within a healthcare system determines ways to improve interactions.

Give healthcare professionals a voice and a platform to state their opinions within management. Good communication stops when providers feel that their voice isn’t heard.

Usage of EHR and EMR technology for exchanging data between medical staff is effective method to improve communication. HIPAA compliant texting between doctors for alerts or sharing daily patients’ updates enhances communication too.

5. Emphasizing on Health Literacy of Patients

As per a study published by Science Advances, physicians must tailor their communication to match with the health literacy level of each patient. Usage of simple language to explain health issues and symptoms can foster strong understanding between patient and doctors, the study revealed.

“There is perhaps no more universal healthcare experience than being sick and not understanding one’s doctor,” study co-author Dr. Dean Schillinger told UPI.

“Not only is this a frustratingly common, and often dangerous, experience, but it’s also a massive and costly public health problem,” said Schillinger, a health communications specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.

Research suggests that approximately 80 million US adults have low or limited health literacy. They lack the ability to read, obtain, understand healthcare data, to make care or treatment decisions.

Factors influencing health literacy are poverty, lack of education, disability, or ethnicity. Nevertheless, aspects that impact health literacy include communication with medical staff and the ability to interpret written health information or receipt.

6. Adapting to New Communication Trends

Medical providers can stay updated with new trends and launches in the healthcare industry to uplift patient care and satisfaction.

Recently, Parrots, a healthcare innovation technology developed a device to assist patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and other diseases. This device makes use of artificial intelligence to help navigate, speak, and to address patients’ needs.

The robotics sector is undergoing significant progress and innovations are underway for the healthcare industry. For example, Movia, a robotics company, is utilizing robots to help children diagnosed with autism. Robotics interventions helps in communication training and cognitive skills.

7. Overcoming Communication Barriers

Patients withhold sensitive information such as sexual dysfunction or substance use because they may not feel comfortable sharing it. They conceal information due to their struggle with psychological trauma or a belief that doctor won’t understand them. Reassurance given by doctors can aid patients to open up about their issues.

Mismanaged healthcare data results in miscommunication, hence hampers patient outcome and care experience. Therefore, usage of electronic health records ensures safe delivery of PHI between doctors.

8. Implementing Communication Methods

Communication methods such as SBAR, STICC, BATHE, and patient teach back are utilized by physicians and nurses for handovers, controlling critical situations, and providing reassurance to patients and their families.

1. SBAR Technique

As per a study, approximately 87.5 percent of nurses found SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation) to be useful for managing information, and converse with physicians. This technique is useful for nurse to nurse communication and handovers.

SBAR is an acronym which stands for –

Situation: Describe the current issue or condition.

Background: Explain background information of the patient.

Assessment: Report conclusion of the patients’ health, based on assessment.

Recommendation: Tell the patient what’s the next course of action and recommendations.

2. STICC

STICC is an effective communication method used during critical situations and provides a structure during meetings and briefings, thus assuring that information is understood.

Full form of STICC is –

Situation: Describe problem or situation.

Task: Assign recommended actions.

Intent: Explain the reason for that action.

Concern: Notify about problems that may arise.

Calibrate: Ask patients what they haven’t understood and if there are reasons why an action cannot be completed.

3. BATHE

This communication method is useful for building rapport with patients and to put them at ease. The objective of this method is give reassurance to patients and solve their concerns.

BATHE is an acronym which stands for –

Background: “What’s happening in your life?”

Affect: “How does this affect you?”

Troubles: “What trouble are you undergoing?”

Handling: “How are you coping with troubles?”

Empathetic: “That must be very difficult for you.”

4. Patient Teach Back Technique

Medical staff can use the patient teach back method to ask patients what they have understood about their health condition. Doctors can ask the patient to describe it in their own words. This method improves patient adherence, reduces cancellation of appointments, and assures better patient outcome.

Final Thoughts

Communication is vital part of our lives as it helps to put forth our thoughts, feels, and views clearly. Its importance in the healthcare sector is essential for conducting complex surgeries, counseling patients, and giving assurance about medical procedures. Healthcare professionals can make use of the above methods for ensuring effective communication within a team and with patients.

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