Key Solutions To Bridge the Gap in Healthcare Communication

by | Apr 25, 2022 | Blog

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Key Solutions To Bridge the Gap in Healthcare Communication in 2022

Communication is important in many aspects of life, but good communication in healthcare is critical – in fact, 80% of preventable medical errors happen because there has been a miscommunication. Whether the conversation is between clinicians, patients, patients’ family members, administrators, public health specialists, researchers, or others, good communication is crucial. 

What are some key areas where good communication in healthcare is needed to ensure quality and patient satisfaction?

Communication in healthcare takes many forms and happens between many stakeholders. For example, communicating a care plan with patients requires clear, concise communication to ensure the patient understands and can follow their care plan. Otherwise, patients may not get better. 

Clinician-to-clinician communication is potentially even more important. Patients today have interdisciplinary teams that care for them, and everyone on the team needs to be clear about the patient’s status and care plan. Whether there are medication changes, lab results that suggest new actions need to be taken, or any other changes to the patient’s care plan, every clinician needs to stay up to date to make the best-informed and timely decisions for the patient’s health. 

This communication does not just mean verbal communication. Written communication, particularly in patient charts, needs to be accurate to improve quality and outcomes. Patients’ charts should have timely and accurate notes that capture all the important information about a patient’s health. Sometimes the notes are redundant and include information that is not relevant, while other times notes may be added late or never added at all. Strong written communication helps clinicians make the best decisions for care. 

What is the biggest communication failure in healthcare?

The biggest communication failure in healthcare is a lack of communication. Clinicians are busy, overworked, and seeing too many patients. Whether in a hospital or a primary care office, clinicians often do not have time to finish notes in their EHR or to find a team member to tell them updates about patients, so this new information stays only with that one clinician. The clinician may not update the patient chart until hours later, meaning that all other team members proceed with care based on outdated information. Other times, the clinician may forget about or misplace notes since the notes are in so different formats, and those notes may never make it into the chart. 

Communication failures also happen between clinicians and patients. Clinicians might be rushed and may not have time to answer all of a patient’s questions. Other times, patients may not speak up or ask questions because they feel like the clinician is busy or they are embarrassed to say they do not understand something. By not having these conversations, patients may not understand what they are supposed to do, or a clinician may not have the full picture of their patient. This lack of clear communication has serious consequences for everyone involved. 

Effects of poor communication in healthcare

Unfortunately, the effects of poor communication in healthcare are severe for patients, clinicians, and organizations. Patients encounter preventable harm to varying degrees of severity. Clinicians feel strong negative emotions and do not receive support for their mental health. Organizations lose money and their strong reputation. 

Let’s look at some numbers to demonstrate just how serious this problem is. Communication failures contribute to up to 50-80% of sentinel events. A 2016 study estimated that communication failures in U.S. hospitals and clinics were at least partially responsible for 30 percent of all malpractice claims, resulting in 1,744 deaths and $1.7 billion in malpractice costs over five years. While everyone suffers, patients bear the brunt of the consequences, and this is not the care they deserve. 

Similarly, clinicians want to give the best care. The problem is not that clinicians do not want to communicate. It is that they do not have the time, processes, and tech to do so effectively. 

What are effective communication strategies in healthcare?

There are many different types of communication in healthcare. You can look at how communication in different types of relationships, such as clinician to a patient compared to a clinician working with another clinician. Type could also refer to the healthcare setting or mode of communication. Regardless of which types of communication in healthcare you are thinking about, there are some strategies for improving communication that are universal. 

One strategy is for people to take a second to recognize their audience. If a clinician is working with another clinician that is specialized in the same field, they can use more jargon. When working with clinicians in other specialties, the clinician should avoid jargon specific to their specialization to ensure everyone understands. When working with patients, there is even more to consider. If a clinician has never met the patient, they should start by establishing a rapport so that the patient can open up to the clinician with relevant information. The healthcare team should also check if a patient needs a translator or needs any post-visit materials in another language. 

Another strategy for effective communication is to have team members verify that they have effectively communicated their ideas. The Teach-Back Method is a great tool to ensure that the other person understands what was said.  Clinicians can ask their patients to use their own words to summarize what the clinician said and what the patient needs to do for their health. This helps the clinician identify which points need to be clarified and if there was any miscommunication. This approach can also be used with other clinicians, such as during handoff to help ensure that no one accidentally skipped over material or said something unclear. 

A third strategy for effective communication is to reduce distractions. This is important for all types of communication in healthcare. With patients, clinicians should avoid staring at the computer screen the entire time. Instead, clinicians can make eye contact and use technology as a visual to help explain to patients what they are talking about. However, clinicians should ditch the technology entirely for sensitive conversations. During patient handoffs, team members can discuss the handoff in a quiet space and minimize non-relevant technology use. They should also take dedicated time to ensure that they’ve included all the relevant information in a patient’s chart before finishing it. 

How can we prevent communication breakdown in healthcare?

Communication errors in healthcare are common, but there is a lot we can do to prevent them. One key thing is to give clinicians more time. Almost half of physicians report they don’t have enough time for documentation. In 2018, 70% of physicians said they spent over 10 hours per week on administrative work, with 32% saying they spend over 20 hours per week. Add to this the ever-increasing patient load and the clinician shortage, and you start to understand how heavy clinician workloads are.

Alleviating some of the workload and giving clinicians dedicated time for documentation can help reduce poor communication in healthcare. Blocking off a few patient appointments a day to allow clinicians to properly finish their documentation and respond to emails could be helpful. Patient appointments could be made longer, especially appointments for patients with complex conditions who may need extra patient education or have more questions.  In hospitals, creating a process to make sure a certain amount of time and designated quiet space is set aside for handoffs, especially at shift changes, could improve communication. 

Another way to prevent miscommunication in healthcare is to use technology to enhance communication and coordinate care. Technology can enhance efficiency and decrease time on administrative tasks, giving clinicians more time to work with both their patients and the other care team members. Technology can also ensure that notes and labs are added to a patient chart, and that clinicians can see those chart updates, in real time. Technology that offers shared task lists allows all team members to see which tasks have been completed and what still needs to be done, without needing to find the time to speak directly with the other clinician.  

By using people, processes, and technology, we can work together to reduce errors and improve communication in healthcare.