Communication in Health Care - what direction is it going?

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We are experiencing an exponential amount of global changes and it is affecting the way we live. Healthcare is one industry that has experienced drastic changes. With changes, there is space to grow and discover what needs are unmet.

An article published by Regis College [4] discusses intra and inter healthcare communication. Hospitals and healthcare institutions utilize many resources to offer diagnosis and treatments. To reach a conclusion, there can be several healthcare professionals working on one patient. This is made possible by a constant flow of information between coworkers, demonstrating that communication between cooperating professionals is a crucial component in the health care process.  

The article Regis College published discusses the necessity of functional and far-reaching communication for intra and inter-hospital communication. When communicating with colleagues, sometimes sensitive patient information is shared and needs to be protected by patient confidentiality. In May of  2018, the European Union extended the security protocols for messaging services - passing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Hospitals are aware of the changes and are attempting to update their communication services. The healthcare industry has been incorporating technology into their care regimens to advance. Nevertheless, the medical field has described the challenges of discovering technological services that follow privacy protocols and can store, deliver, and transfer their data.

The Regis College article explores the differences between a hospital with strong communication policies and hospitals that are using a less developed communication system. It examines the correlation between effective communication and patients’ quality of care. 

 

Better Communication Practices is a Benefit for all

Communication is at the heart of every company, it can mean success or failure; and in the case of hospitals, it can be the difference between life and death. A recent study by FierceHealth [7] (2016) discovered that over the course of five years in the United States poor communication accounted for 1,744 patient deaths and over $1.7 billion in malpractice costs (Shinkman, 2016). FierceHealth reported an example of one man who died because a nurse failed to alert the surgeon of the patient’s internal bleeding. A second case involved a diabetic patient who collapsed and died after two medical practices failed to share the patient’s messages. 

Miscommunication led to the passing of these patients, it can be gathered that better communication is essential for healthcare providers and patients. Effective communication — both intrahospital and interhospital — is service healthcare providers need to improve to further protect their patients, cut costs, and help day-to-day operations. Moreover, effective communication could increase the healthcare professional’s access to patients’ medical histories, reducing the chance of medical errors. Besides, efficient communication and its policies allow a higher number of patients to be treated, thus higher hospital incomes. A good example of effective communication is introduced in the Harvard article (2019)[8]: “Effective communication includes health literacy, cultural competency and language barriers. Interventions to address each component should be incorporated into every level of healthcare organizations and fit seamlessly into pre-existing workflows. Corresponding action plans should be created for each component to determine baseline capabilities and track improvements. Optimizing all components of effective communication will improve patient outcomes and lead to greater monetary savings which can then be reinvested in the organization.”

  

Focus on the Patient 

When people come to a hospital, clinic, or a regularly scheduled doctor's appointment, the facilities ensure their patients are safe and cared for. The Clinical Biochemist Review [2] revealed that poor communication can endanger patient safety in the healthcare industry. Coiera discusses how inadequate communication is a leading cause of in-hospital deaths, “In a retrospective review of 14,000 in-hospital deaths, communication errors were found to be the lead cause, twice as frequent as errors due to inadequate clinical skill,” (Coiera, 2006). A patient's life is a  top priority and should mobilize hospitals to create effective communication structures. Errors driven by communication can be reduced and are preventable.


Interhospital vs. Intrahospital Communications

There are two types of communication schemes that are commonly used by healthcare institutions to provide patients with care: interhospital and intrahospital.


Interhospital

Regis University defines interhospital  communication as  [4]

Interhospital communications can be described as information sharing among multiple institutions or organizations. This includes transmissions between facilities owned by the same organization or between completely separate health care entities. Moving patients from one organization to another, providing medical records, and transporting vital medical equipment all require clear communication between sites. 

Nevertheless, organizations bringing in new services to improve their communication face hurdles such as learning and transitioning to a new system.  Many times communication policies are focusing on in-hospital communication and neglect protocols of how to communicate outside of internal staff. This can further complicate communication. Another study conducted by the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS) [7] reviewed all the communication components and the impact of a health care system’s communication delays and failures. There is unequal attention given to every component and gaps in the broad understanding of the role of communication services. Furthermore, earlier research by Robert H. Smith School of Business found that poor interhospital communication costs the industry upward of $12 billion annually [6].    


Intrahospital

Regis University defines interhospital communication as  [4]

Problems with communication occur among co-workers inside of the same hospital. For example, instructions on exact dosages were repeatedly double-checked by the phone due to a physician’s illegible handwriting. Intrahospital communication can be described as any information sharing inside of a singular institution — it involves coordinating room changes, scheduling surgeries, assigning further tests, or even setting up appointments. When doctors, staff, and patients are not effectively sharing information, the efficiency of each process may decrease, potentially resulting in unnecessary costs or even endanger patients. Patient record delays, lack of procedural coordination, and even serious medical errors may all be consequences of poor intrahospital communication. 

 

Common Communication Methods

Every hospital, health facility, or organization has a unique communication system. It usually consists of multiple channels and forms of communication and all staff require training. A potential risk for patient care is that any disruption in communication can lead to insufficient care. While working in the healthcare system, I witnessed the disruption a computer malfunction can cause, it can lead to limited availability of patient data between departments resulting in a disconnect or postponed intervention. 

On the other hand, Healthcare professionals can share information on paper and eliminate the risk of a computer malfunctioning. However, many times, abbreviations differ, there is incomplete information, a missing dosage, resulting in repeated verifications via phone call or a letter request. This prolongs the patient’s treatment and creates an obstacle for hospitals.  In a Belgian narrative review on healthcare communication by P.Vermeir [7]: “It was found that poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes: discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction and inefficient use of valuable resources, both in unnecessary investigations and physician work time as well as economic consequences.”

In the Regis article [4] we can learn about the following types of data sharing between organizations. 

 

Transmitting Patient Data

For healthcare professionals to treat a patient, several staff members need to have access to a patient’s records. Hospitals can have different methods or structures for storing their records, it can slow down the process of treatment and access. The Regis Study notes that millions of dollars are lost each year due to the delay of records.  As a patient, I have experienced delays in my treatments due to insufficient records and repeat examinations. In addition, delays can occur due to ownership rights regarding patient records. And when patients’ data aren’t shared between departments or other healthcare organizations, it increases the chances of malpractices and subsequently increases costs.


Research Findings and their share

Research is an essential step in developing approved treatments and procedures. Healthcare professionals need platforms to share with and inform their colleagues of new developments in their medical field that might allow for new, innovative health care.  Surprisingly, Nicole Roberts revealed that some third-party researchers are artificially blocking data, e.g. those working for private companies and pharma labs[5]. Private companies have become increasingly reliant on protecting their data and research for the purpose of financial gain. When privatized medical companies suppress possible medical advancements it causes funding, time, and resources to be wasted. For health care techniques to evolve, providers must implement communication systems that allow researchers to quickly and easily collaborate, both within the same organization and across multiple organizations.


Collaborating with Colleagues

Collaborating in teams to create a treatment is necessary within hospitals. Intrahospital communication depends on cooperation among healthcare professionals. This may include patients, laboratories, physicians, nurses, and other staff,  it is expected that all members involved in a treatment plan will work cohesively and maintain consistent communication.  This assumes that there is a common communication system and data collection. As described in the study and from my personal experience, inaccurate communication between professionals or departments can lead to errors or misunderstandings that risk patient safety. 


Coordinating Hospital Leadership

As described in the Regis article [4] hospitals are functioning businesses and need to operate as such:

Hospital managers and other leaders must communicate frequently with doctors, staff, and patients. All hospital leaders and managers not only oversee administrative staff and tasks but can also play a vital role in individual patient health care plans. To be effective, they should maintain open lines of communication with those around them and also facilitate information sharing between hospital departments and with other institutions.


Telemedicine

The healthcare system requires digital development for its services. The American Telemedicine society noted that “healthcare professionals are increasingly embracing telemedicine, which involves using a variety of internet-connected technologies to serve patients remotely,” demonstrating the demand for innovative healthcare  [3]. 

Digital and telemedicine tools are widely used in hospitals or organizations, and their intranet communication system allows them to share information much faster and more effectively. To help communication progress and evolve, digitization is a vital next step.  The digitization of medicine is evolving and growing, there is even potential for patients to communicate with healthcare professionals through safe and secure digital services. Many tools for self-diagnosing were launched in the past decades, including devices to measure heart rates, check sugar levels, or communicate online with physicians.

Prior to Covid-19, hospitals and medical professionals were impressed by how technology created effective and efficient communication. 

Digital communication is becoming a necessity for several healthcare professionals. It can be challenging to decide which communication service will be the right fit, but one can start to research and learn as much as possible about available digitization within their internal system or start suggesting available digital tools to their patients. 



Closing with the topic of Telemedicine it is pertinent to discuss how recent events have influenced communication development, especially in the healthcare system. COVID-19, affected how humans live, resulting in rapid communication system development-- an area that is crucial for health care.

As mentioned in an article by Rock Health [1], the end of digital health is near. To understand this profound claim, we must acknowledge the fact that digital health is becoming the norm therefore terms such as “digital health” will become extinct.

We at MedText are now introducing a GDPR compliant, a digital communication application, offering health care professionals’ a tool for fast, complex communication. The system is based on popular communication services and requires zero training. The application is to be used for intra or inter organizations’ purposes and is an effective communication method. 

For example, EMS is implementing one function of MedText to effectively communicate patient cases with the dispatcher, leading physician, consulting physician, and transferring patients to their hospital of choice or another hospital, and extending communication to additional members if needed. All contact is by instant message, video, photos, voice message, text records, etc. – the professional can choose their preferred form of communication at the given moment. And the whole team is included in the loop. This application is welcomed by rapid, complete data to several corresponding teams.  Asynchronous, complete and easy to use.

Adding MedText to your organization will smooth your communication, it is profitable and easy. Check out how to update and enhance your communication services at www.medtext.eu



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