Your Clinical Communications Strategy: 5 Factors to Consider

Sanjeev Gupta

Sanjeev Gupta , MS

Member, Board of Directors

Published September 22, 2015

Communication is integral to every clinical workflow. Physicians consult with other physicians about a patient. Nurses update physicians and receive orders. Labs provide test results to clinicians. Handoffs and care transitions happen between shifts and when a patient moves to a new care environment.

Unfortunately, outdated clinical communication systems, comprised largely of pagers and paging systems, are not up to the job. They create too many communication interruptions and gaps that put patients at risk, cause treatment delays and reduce provider productivity.

As a company that provides communication solutions, Agnity Healthcare’s clients come to us because they’re frustrated with the time and resources it takes to for physicians and nurses to communicate with one another. For one of our clients, a 180-bed regional hospital, its ICU had significant bottlenecks in reaching consulting physicians. Between the time it took to walk to a phone, locate the physician’s phone number and play telephone tag, it would typically take between 15 seconds and 15 minutes for hospital staff to finally talk to the physician. A simple, secure messaging smartphone solution was not enough because not all physicians use text messaging and many do not keep their mobile devices on. More importantly, in life and death situations, providers need to talk rather than communicate by text message.

The regional hospital then implemented a comprehensive clinical communications platform available on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. The platform included real-time availability and status of care team members; on-call scheduling; text, voice and picture messaging; and communication logs. After implementation, the hospital’s “connect time” dropped to under 15 seconds for 85 percent of the cases. That means clinicians are spending less time chasing each other and more time on patient care.

In my experience working with hospital CMOs and CIOs to upgrade their clinical communication, most initially approach their challenges as a “product” issue, but quickly learn that taking full advantage of a product requires changes in processes and workflows, e.g., how meetings are conducted and directories are maintained. We have identified five factors for hospitals and healthcare systems to consider when looking to enhance their clinical communications strategy:

1. HIPAA Compliant/Secure Messaging Is Just The Start

HIPAA compliant messaging is an excellent place to start upgrading your communications technology. A simple smartphone app that offers secure messaging capability immediately breaks the communication bottleneck while reducing your exposure to non-compliance penalties. While many hospitals and health systems are focused on secure texting, that’s just one piece of a larger puzzle. Very quickly you’ll discover that your communications platform will also have to support multi-media messaging, audio calls and telemedicine, capabilities that most first generation mobile apps do not offer.

2. Fragmentation Of Communication Has to Be Avoided

While multimodal communication gives users the flexibility they need, it can also fragment the information. To achieve effective communications, individual modes of communication can no longer be viewed in isolation, but must be offered as part of a broader strategy. An inability to cross reference text messages, alerts, audio calls and video calls introduces delays and errors in clinical workflows. Hence your communications platform must maintain a unified thread of all communications related to the same patient.

3. Communications Must Become Patient-Centered

Communication without medical information about the patient is not actionable. Therefore, your communications platform must allow providers to access a patient’s medical records from (multiple) EMR systems and attach the requisite information from the medical records to their message. By providing a single interface for providers to manage data, an effective communication platform enables physicians to more efficiently balance the needs of their patients with their health data.

4. Real-Time Team Collaboration Is Better Than 1:1 Communication

Since caring for a patient requires more than one physician or nurse, your communications platform should allow your providers to define patient-specific care teams and enable real-time collaboration among all the team members. Once a case manager or nurse defines a care team, anyone on the team can initiate communication about the patient, facilitating real-time updates and responses. The ability for the care team to collaborate in real-time, quickly access lab results and other data needed to making informed decisions is critical and ensures everyone is on the same page – whether engaging in face-to-face, voice or text messaging-based communication in disparate locations.

5. True Leverage of Better Communication Lies In Care Coordination

Enabling better communication and collaboration is valuable. It reduces clinician frustration with the time and resources spent trying to communicate with one another, and speeds up clinical workflows. However, there is a lot more to be gained when case managers, nurses, physicians, pharmacists, laboratory and imaging use real-time, anywhere collaboration to manage patient flow, discharge processes, and overall care. For this, the communications platform should help clinicians create care plans and provide dynamic work priorities to all staff and physicians on the care team.

Investing in a well thought-out clinical communications strategy that considers the factors outlined above will not only will help hospitals meet impending HIPAA compliance requirements, but also reduce response time, improve workflow and ensure quality patient care.

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