The Impact of Communication in Healthcare
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The Impact of Communication in Healthcare

By Michael Saad, CIO, UT Medical Center

Michael Saad, CIO, UT Medical Center

Whether considering athletics, military conflicts, family life, politics, relationships, or business, communication is at the core of what we do. Without good communication, we are doomed to fail. The faster the pace and greater the stakes, the more important communication becomes.

In the fast-paced and high-stakes healthcare industry, communication is essential to providing great patient care, employee engagement, and achieving profitability. Healthcare is one of the few industries where decisions regarding life or death are being made every day - multiple times over. Communication is critical in ensuring the proper decisions are made based on the information at hand.

Part of the challenge with communication in healthcare is not merely the time in which decisions need to be acted upon, and the potential impact of those decisions, but also the number of parties involved in the communication process. Consider that communication must take place between patients, families, physicians, nurses, radiology, pharmacy, lab, patient transport, case management, registration, EMS, and many others. If any of these communication channels breakdown, it can have the potential to result in serious or even fatal consequences.

Communication and patient safety

When considering patient safety and the role communication plays, it cannot be overstated how critical communication is. Many studies have shown that the lack of proper communication was the root cause of adverse patient outcomes, and that improved communication could have prevented many of these errors.

A CRICO Strategies study looked at over 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits and identified over 7,000 cases that were a direct result of miscommunication. Furthermore, they found that communication failures were linked to 1,744 patient deaths in five years.

That is an average of nearly one patient death per day that can be directly attributed to a breakdown in communication. While there were multiple reasons for the communication breakdown, the data showed it happened at all stages of the patient care process and involved numerous parties.

Communication directly impacts the bottom- line

Hospital payments are directly impacted by their CMS Medicare scores, also known as HCAHPS. These scores are compiled from surveys sent directly to the patient following a visit to the hospital. There are 22 questions directly related to the care an individual received while in the hospital. Nearly one-third of the questions focus on the communication between the hospital staff and the patient. It is impossible to obtain a favorable score without scoring well in the areas that are focused on communication.

Unfavorable HCAHPS scores can result in the hospital receiving less reimbursement for Medicare patients, while positive scores can help protect these payments. Depending on the number of Medicare patients served by the organization, this could result in a significant financial impact.

"Communication not only has a direct impact on patient safety but can also have a significant effect on the bottom-line of any healthcare organization"

Solutions

Technology has improved the speed that we are able to communicate today. In many cases, what would have taken several phone calls, faxes, or even letters, can now be done near real-time.

As communication tools continue to proliferate, hospitals/ health systems need to define their strategy as it relates to communication platforms and tools. Some organizations have adopted a best-of-breed strategy, while others are focused on using a single platform to manage various forms of communication. Because each organization is different and the challenges vary, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Regardless of the strategy, the right communication solution needs to have a few basic features to be effective. The solution needs to be easy to use and intuitive. If it is difficult to use or the learning curve is steep, people will avoid using and will find “workarounds”, which can lead to other communication issues.

Ideally, the solution needs to be part of the clinical workflow and not something that requires individuals to stop what they are doing and switch to a different tool. For example, communication tools integrated into the EHR can be more effective than a separate tool that requires providers to open up another application, website, etc.

Lastly, the tool should have a robust mobile solution. Most providers and clinical staff are mobile throughout their shift and not tied to a specific computer. A lot of the workforce are now familiar with mobile apps, and the familiarity of these type of mobile apps make them something the staff will want to use.

Organizations can spend a significant amount of money on communication platforms and solutions. If they are not easy to use, integrated into existing workflows, and accessible to all staff while on the move, they will not be adopted and can even lead to additional communication issues.

Communication not only has a direct impact on patient safety but can also have a significant effect on the bottom-line of any healthcare organization. Choosing the right strategy and solutions can help improve communication and result in better patient outcomes and a healthier bottom-line.

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