Health communication technology: The crucial piece most organizations don’t know they need
It’s true that we already have a lot of technology and tools to facilitate communication in healthcare.
There are no shortage of secure messaging apps and email systems for quick back-and-forth updates. Meanwhile, the EHR stores all the data we need to know about patients. (Just give us a couple extra hours in the day to find what we need ….) Even paper is in the mix to jot down to-do’s and task lists (although paper needs to be limited, if not eliminated).
Do we really need another tool? Let’s talk about how healthcare delivery has changed, and how teams really communicate in the modern-day care setting to find out.
We’re also going to talk wedding planning. (It applies – promise!)
Communication, coordination, collaboration: they’re not one and the same
The way healthcare providers share information related to patient care delivery tends to fall into three categories: transactional communication, collaboration and coordination.
These terms often are used interchangeably – but they have different meanings that can help clarify why there’s a missing piece in the suite of care-team communication tools we rely on.
Do you have your definitions straight?
Transactional communication: An exchange of information between two or more providers regarding a patient’s status (this can include test results, test ordered, emerging symptoms, suspected conditions … anything related to caring for the patient). By nature, transactional communications tend to be better for one-off updates rather than long-term planning.
Coordination: Communication specifically regarding how to execute the next steps in the patient care plan, sorting out the logistics of who will do what, when and where.
Collaboration: Patient-centered, team-based thinking and planning. For collaboration to be possible, all clinicians involved in the patient’s care must contribute (and have access to) specific, up-to-the minute knowledge of the patient to guide collective decision-making that’s as safe and effective as possible.
How delivering patient care is like planning a wedding
Weird comparison, yes, but here it goes: Think about planning a wedding. You’ve got the menu, drinks, cake, flowers, venue, entertainment, invitations, favors, hotel accommodations, transportation, speeches, signage, dates, timing … whew.
It’s a lot of details and decisions – and a lot of stakeholders.
Imagine what it would be like to plan the entire thing through text messaging alone. Every time you want to make a decision, you’re forced to search through dozens of text threads that have gone back and forth between several combinations of recipients.
Oh, and maybe there was an email string or two thrown in there with some crucial information … but good luck finding it in the inbox. Who sent it again … ?
Now imagine how much easier it would be if you had a centralized, live workspace, organized by category, for all the major players to update anytime, anyplace. You’re able to see which flowers the bride has chosen, whether invitations should be on white or cream cardstock, the guest who under no circumstances can be seated at the same table as Uncle Joe … all the details, in one glance.
What’s changed? Communication is now structured, organized into categories so nothing gets lost or overlooked.
It’s dynamic in nature, so planning can reflect the most recent decisions and preferences of all involved.
Instead of forging ahead in a vacuum, all the major players are collaborating in real-time.
The same concept applies to patient care communication.
Messaging, emails and the EHR are all crucial. Something’s still missing
The most commonly used tools today – and again, we’re primarily talking about the EHR, secure messaging apps and emails – all have their place and necessary use cases.
Secure messaging and emails are great for one-off updates. They save clinicians time (and a lot of shoe leather). But where does all that crucial information “live”? Does it make it into the EHR?
Speaking of the EHR, it’s a vital tool. EHRs support hospital billing functions and serve as the legal record of patient care. But while it’s true that the EHR has made patient data more accessible, it, too, is static in nature.
Multiple EHRs often exist within health systems, and they don’t organize data in a way for clinicians to easily gain a complete picture of what’s going on with the patient at any given moment.
So what type of communication tech are we missing?
If you’ve got your hand raised to say we need technology that better enables team-based care and collaboration, you nailed it.
While the tools mentioned above all serve an important purpose in supporting teamwork and delivering safe, effective care, they aren’t designed for transparency across teams, departments and health systems.
They don’t provided a structured way for clinicians to communicate with each other, or the ability to make dynamic updates to reflect the most recent thinking about a patient’s situation.
For example, as illustrated by our wedding planning analogy, text strings are not optimal for long-term planning purposes, for several reasons: too many threads involving too many combinations of people, the risk of inadvertently leaving a team member off a crucial message, the impracticality – in fact, danger – of spending way too much time sorting through dozens of text strings to find crucial information.
Care delivery is now a collaborative effort.
Care delivery has changed dramatically over the last decade. Instead of one person primarily caring for a patient, we now have several specialists and teams involved across multiple care settings.
The advantage, of course, is that patients receive tailored care plans with expertise from specialists in multiple disciplines.
But on the flipside, care teams and individual providers can change within hours, let alone over a weeks-long hospital stay. Teams are managing separate task lists and workflows for the same patient, which can result in the left hand not knowing what the right is doing, so to speak.
We need a tool that enables better collaboration.
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True collaboration is far easier to achieve when teams have access to something we refer to as a think space … a central place where all team members can make real-time updates in a well-organized interface, including the reasoning behind their actions and decisions.
(Spoiler alert: this is possible!)
We need to be able to communicate dynamically.
Dynamic communication is the opposite of transactional communication. Transactional communication forces care providers to keep track of information exchanges and figure out what action to take.
Communicating dynamically reflects the reality of patient care: any given factor can change minute by minute. A tool that enables dynamic communication transforms one-off updates into actionable information.
We need structured communication and workflows.
Structured communication gives team members insight into what each is doing and thinking – an important key to collaborative patient care.
With a structure in place to guide documentation, clinicians can be sure they’re following best practices for healthcare communications. It removes the burden for frontline providers to remember every piece of information that should be included in their notes.
Because with structure comes better clarification and care orchestration
Without a structured format to guide communication, it’s more difficult for team members to quickly clarify what needs to be done. Back to the wedding planning analogy: structured communication takes all those separate threads – and instead of cake and flowers we’re of course talking handoffs, documentation, discharge notes, test results and other processes – and unifies them.
This helps care providers orchestrate a much smoother, safer and more effective patient care journey.
Carealign: The missing piece of the tech puzzle
The truth is, we need all of these different forms of communication to provide safe, high-quality care.
But clinicians need a tool that better equips them to make the life-or-death decisions that are a routine part of patient care – without being forced to search through disparate records and data siloed in multiple systems (or trapped in pockets, in the case of paper lists).
Carealign grew organically out of this need. It’s a physician-designed app built around the idea that teams need instant access to patient care updates from all involved care providers, across all care settings.
A team-based technology, Carealign provides a collaborative workspace where clinicians can manage their patient workload from any mobile device, anytime, anywhere.
Designed to optimize your communication tools, not replace them
Carealign was developed based on the idea that no single platform can do it all when it comes to effective communication. Rather, it is designed to work with existing tools by addressing those missing puzzle pieces: team-based collaboration, dynamic communication and structured workflows.
For example, EHRs do not optimize data access and clinical workflows. Carealign centralizes all that disparate, static data into one place that care providers can update dynamically, from their phones or whatever mobile device they’ve got at the bedside.
It mirrors the ease and mobility of secure messaging and emails by allowing on-the-fly updates. But, again, it provides a structured format to organize all those vital communications into a searchable, at-a-glance repository.
Integrates with EHRs
Carealign integrates with any EHR, so there’s no risk of information not making back into the EHR.
Patient-centered think space
Carealign functions as a patient-centered think space, where clinicians can document the rationale alongside their actions. Rather than working and making decisions in a vacuum, Carealign allows clinicians to synchronize their efforts for well-orchestrated patient care. Instead of blindly completing patient care tasks in isolation, the left hand and right hand can now work together, to carry that metaphor through, with a full understanding of why.
Dynamic communication for better collaboration
With a dynamic way to make and access patient care updates, individual team members can instantly draw on input from each other to guide actions and decisions, for better results. Now that’s collaboration.
A structure for communication
In healthcare, we have many separate workflows – rounding, handoffs, documentation and more. They are all part of one overall workflow, however, that’s been divided into these different steps, systems and procedures.
Carealign incorporates best practices around team-based communication, handoffs and usability to bring workflows together in one complete picture.
It’s designed to mirror the entire clinical team’s workflow – whether being used by an attending physician, a new intern, a nurse, pharmacist, therapist or social worker, the platform supports team-based care, facilitating seamless communication and more complete documentation.
Learn more about how Carealign transforms health team communication. Get a demo here.
“For the first time in my career, I feel like I am anticipating problems before they happen and CareAlign has allowed our clinical team to be more proactive instead of reactive. Dynamic care plans show real-time updates to patient care and help us prioritize those with the most urgent needs. It’s an innovative tool that the entire industry can benefit from using.”
— Kiran Patel, D.O.