“The quality of your communication is the quality of your life” – Anthony Robbins
Communication is at the core of everything we do. Communication directly impacts so many areas of our life and society, including athletics, military conflicts, family life, politics, relationships, and business. 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 excellent patient care, employee engagement, and achieving profitability.
Healthcare is one of the few industries where decisions regarding life or death are 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 isn’t just the time in which decisions need to be made, but also the number of parties involved in the 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 channels break down, it can potentially result in serious or even fatal consequences.
When considering patient safety, 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 communication breakdown. While there were multiple reasons for the breakdown, the data showed it happened at all stages of the patient care process and involved numerous parties.
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 have a significant financial impact.
Process, Then Technology
I’ve seen people mistakenly think that a technology solution will solve all communication issues once a particular solution is implemented. However, if the communication issues stem from a flawed process or other systemic problems, the technology solution will simply exacerbate the issue.
When technology is adopted, it magnifies any broken processes that existed before the technology was implemented.
For this reason, it is crucial to ensure that any issues leading to a breakdown in communications are addressed upfront and, therefore, not continued once the tool is implemented. This is also why stakeholders must be part of any design and implementation team. It is vital to understand the current process, what the tool can do, and what the new workflows will look like before adopting any new solution. Many technology implementations fail do so because the proper individuals/groups were not involved upfront, or unrealistic expectations were made regarding what the tool can and cannot do.
Technology has improved the speed in which 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 and health systems need to define their strategy as it relates to these platforms and tools. Some organizations have adopted a best-of-breed approach, 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 it and find workarounds, leading to other communication issues.
- The solution needs to be part of the clinical or administrative 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.
Knowing that today’s workforce is more mobile than ever, the tool can also benefit from having a robust mobile solution. Most providers and clinical staff are mobile throughout their shifts and are familiar with mobile apps, which makes it easy for them to learn and adopt if appropriately developed.
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 issues.
Communication can have a significant effect not just on patient safety, but also on an organization’s bottom line. Choosing the right strategy and solutions can improve communication and result in better patient outcomes and finances.