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Four Keys to Improving Your Organization’s Internal Communications

April 29, 2021

Better communication is touted as being the key to improving all types of relationships, including between patient and physician. More frequent and better-quality communication between patient and physician is proven to enhance patient satisfaction, build better rapport, provide more accurate diagnosis, and ultimately result in better health outcomes.

One area of communication often overlooked is internal communication, or communication that takes place between staff at a clinic or healthcare practice.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported a study conducted over a 10-year period that demonstrated ineffective team communication was the root cause for nearly 66% of all medical errors. A heavy reliance on ineffective technology contributes to internal communication issues, especially with the rise in use of mobile devices.

Much of the medical technology industry was created to improve patient recordkeeping, but outdated and complicated systems that lack interoperability often create more administrative burden on physicians. A December 2016 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that physicians in outpatient settings spent only 27% of their day directly interfacing with patients, while 49% was spent working in the electronic health record (EHR) system and on other administrative tasks.

Communication breakdowns occur most often when a patient’s information changes hands, such as:

  • During interdepartmental transfers/handoffs
  • During transfers from primary to secondary care
  • In high-acuity settings, such as an emergency room
  • During patient handovers at shift changes
  • During information sharing across professional boundaries i.e., clinician to case manager
  • Across multiple services sites
  • Within the interface between EHR progress notes in primary and secondary care

When internal communication breaks down during these transfers, patient care suffers and mistakes are made due to lack of proper information. Communication is key in all aspects of healthcare, but internal communication is one area that providers have full control over. To improve your practice’s internal communications, consider the following:

How well do your internal systems operate?

The administrative burden placed upon physicians is enormous. The Department of Health and Human Services introduced the Reducing Administrative Costs and Burdens in Health Care Act, which calls for a 50% reduction in unnecessary administrative costs. Streamline updating patient records and communicating changes to staff across the practice by implementing a seamlessly integrated EHR system. Consider the rule of clicks as well: Updating records or tasks should never take more than two clicks. The more clicks required to update a record, the greater chance of a mistake being made.

Does your practice foster communication and collaboration?

Physicians and healthcare staff are incredibly busy, making it that much more important to foster team communication. How do you share news internally? How do you encourage positive relationships amongst the team? Fostering better collaboration and team communication will improve your internal communication.

For example, prioritize face-to-face communication (post-pandemic) and optional social activities outside the clinical setting. In addition, consider how you give feedback to the team or reward clinic staff for their accomplishments.

What are your internal processes around communication?

How do your teams ask for help or communicate amongst each other? Are they using mobile devices? Do you have a system that automatically captures information from exchanges and syncs to mobile devices? How do you ensure communication outside of your EHR is recorded? You need internal processes in place to ensure your internal communication is as strong as possible.

In many hospital settings, pagers are still used for communication but offer no ability to facilitate a two-way conversation. A majority of healthcare workers are not fans of email. Instead, consider using a mobile app that fosters peer-to-peer communication and collaboration.

In fact, there are over 31,000 health, fitness and medical record apps currently on the market. Most providers are in favor of mobile health apps. The future of healthcare is mobile. It makes sense to use smartphones to encourage professional real-time messaging, especially when it can interface directly with your EHR.

When is the last time you updated your technology?

Technology tools can help streamline and cross-check your communication. AI-enabled functionality can scan for errors and automatically enter data into the correct places. Intelligent alerts can make follow up tasks easy and intuitive. They are key in eliminating errors, improving communication, and ultimately improving the patient experience and health outcomes.

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Communication is key in every aspect of healthcare. And it is a practice that can be continuously improved. If you haven’t considered how better-quality internal communication can benefit your practice, now is the time.

Khalid Al-Maskari is CEO of Health Information Management Systems (HiMS).

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