Communication is the backbone of the United States healthcare industry. The amount of data that moves throughout a healthcare organization every day is staggering. In order for it to be properly understood and utilized, caregivers and their communication techniques must work together to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and all parties involved pay the price, often literally.

What Are Clinical Communications?

Clinical communications is most easily defined as the interprofessional exchange of information and medical data in a healthcare scenario. It consists of the inter-organization notifications, alerts, databases and messaging systems used daily in a healthcare organization, both on the front lines and behind the scenes. The technology involved may include any number of software and hardware devices such as pagers, mobile phones with specialty apps, wearable electronics, computer systems, databases, patient-monitoring electronics, video and text chat software, scheduling software and the IT and maintenance that supports all of it.

Who Takes Part In These Communications?

Communicators in a healthcare network are many, and may include at any given time nurses, nursing assistants, physicians, surgeons, specialty doctors, accountants, HR personnel, secretaries, management staff, IT and more. The healthcare field employs many different people with many different communication needs. Because these needs are not always the same, their communication methods don’t collaborate well when exchanging information or trying to contact one another. Successful interprofessional communication is essential within the healthcare organization because there are so many different parts that need to unite and work together.

Through the technology of clinical communications, any and all of these people may talk to one another and communicate their various needs. From there, assuming communication and data management is successful, nurses and other providers may communicate necessary information to patients and receive feedback.

Problems With Clinical Communication

However, there are inevitable difficulties and shortcomings in the system. Some of the effects of poor communication in healthcare include:

  • Nurse and caregiver alarm fatigue—with the number of alerts and alarms that occur in a hospital environment every day, it can be easy for caregivers to experience sensory overload and stressful mental states that compromise their ability to provide quality care to patients.
  • Need for secure and HIPAA-compliant communication—HIPAA regulations carefully guard patient information and keep it confidential. However, text messaging and other forms of communication are often not HIPAA compliant and may risk leaking sensitive data to people who are not authorized to know it.
  • Ineffective technology and lack of training in technology use—Many clinical communication systems are outdated and far behind current technological trends, and the effects on care and cost are many. Additionally, even if given new technology to use for communication, without receiving proper training, healthcare staff may not know how to use it effectively—resulting in an inefficiency scenario that is comparable to not having advanced communication technology at all.
  • Lack of or inconsistency in collaboration among staff—Individual staff members will inevitably have differing preferences in how they work together and communicate, and having such as disparity in communication style will affect workflow and hold all team members back.
  • Unreliability of databases and communication devices—Older and lower-tech equipment will not have the reliability, efficiency or computing power of newer technology to interpret and transmit data. This has the potential to impede caregiving efforts and leads to complications in and confusion with proper treatment.
  • Lack of situational awareness—According to Patient Safety Network, situational awareness is the ability to access and track data relevant to the task at hand, comprehend the data, forecast what may happen based on the data, and formulate an appropriate plan in response. It requires healthcare providers to collaborate and communicate effectively about the “big picture” of a patient’s health. But without being on the same page, as it were, drastic communication, medical opinion/procedure and strategy idea differences may result, which will negatively affect the patient’s quality of care.

Some of the effects of poor interdisciplinary communication in nursing and throughout a healthcare organization include misdiagnoses, higher hospital bills and interprofessional disagreement regarding strategy and treatment.

What are some ways healthcare organizations can improve their communications?

Upgrade technology

One way to improve quality and efficiency of communication is to upgrade computer systems, software and other technologies. Rapid technological advances of recent years have made advanced communication methods more accessible than ever and their implementation even more necessary than ever. Many devices that have been used for a long time could do well to be replaced or upgraded with new technologies (i.e. replacing old pagers with wearable call command tech or secure text messaging devices).

There are many types of communication in healthcare. These include but are not limited to email, texting, voice calling, video chatting, paging, call commands, scheduling and database accessing. Providers may communicate with one another or may communicate with a computer or server to access the information they need. Patient records could be digitized and stored on servers for easy access and modification. In that case, IT services would need to be up to the task of maintaining those data hubs and keeping them secure.

Everyday healthcare communications often take place through hospital communication devices like mobile phones, laptops and tablets. These devices will usually require clinical communications apps for messaging and database accessing. And since healthcare data and its communication is so closely regulated by law, HIPAA compliant texting and file sharing would need to be adopted to make the whole process secure. Beyond that, a clinical integration network that unites devices and software would help keep information secure but also easily accessible and foster improved teamwork in healthcare.

Interprofessional collaboration

Interprofessional collaboration through modern technology will help solve many issues in a healthcare environment. Where misinformation and lack of information often results in improper or inadequate care provided for patients, improvements can result in more effective communication in nursing and other healthcare services.

Another important aspect to consider is the relationships between healthcare providers and the technology they are using. Many would want to bring in automation of healthcare processes without sacrificing the human elements of intuition and logical situational judgment. There are also others who would reject the implementation of new technologies. Therefore a willingness—or requirement—to be flexible and adaptable to new, unified communication techniques would also prove valuable to a healthcare environment.

Uniting to pursue Quadruple Aim

All of these issues would go a long way to reaching the goal of quadruple aim, which includes four sub-goals: improving the health of the population, enhancing the experience of care for individual patients, reducing the per capita cost of healthcare and attaining joy in work. When providers recognize the importance of collaboration and communication in healthcare, their work will improve as they unite to provide the best care possible to their patients.

How Modern Healthcare Technology Can Help

Just as most consumer technology is becoming more and more advanced and intuitive, so too is healthcare technology. There are many methods, software applications and devices available on the market that can help reduce stress in the medical field, bring about efficiency and foster good communication.

Alarm Fatigue Reduction

One important part of healthcare service that modern technology would impact is alarm fatigue. Alarm fatigue is the mental exhaustion and sensory overload that comes as a result of medical staff hearing all of the sounds connected to medical alerts, codes, button pushes and other notifications sent by patients or medical devices, whether the alert is needed or not.

The sheer number of alerts that sound every day in a clinical environment, many of them false alarms, desensitizes nurses and providers to real needs that require attendance. This can lead to accidents and mistakes which can be detrimental to patients and providers alike. Alarm fatigue elimination is something that most, if not all, medical professionals would love to accomplish. Modern technology can play a part in alarm fatigue reduction, helping to monitor alerts and notification sounds more efficiently and without exhausting staff.

Code Lavender Response

Reducing alarm fatigue and introducing new technologies into a healthcare environment will also help reduce nurse and provider stress. This type of stress often leads to a Code Lavender alert, in which a provider becomes mentally and emotionally compromised by a traumatic or overwhelming situation and needs support. Specialized care teams are assigned to provide the necessary help and offer consolation.

Updating communication technology can help reduce environmental factors that contribute to alarm fatigue. It can also help with ensuring that a stressed-out healthcare professional receives the support that they need. Modern hospital communication systems are capable of funnelling notifications to the people who truly need them, minimizing false alarms, reducing alarm and other forms of fatigue and streamlining communication so as to help providers have all the tools necessary for properly caring for a patient.

HIPAA Compliant Messaging

With modern communication tools, HIPAA compliant file sharing and messaging is easier than ever, and identifying and providing for the needs of individual patients becomes easier and more reliable. Improved patient care and satisfaction means improved processes that save healthcare organizations money.

Modern communication tools are necessary for nursing staff because they make rounding and patient monitoring tasks easier. With instant connections to information databases and improved interprofessional communication through modern devices, the care that they are able to give will also improve and heighten patient satisfaction.

Best Practices

Unite the team

One of the best ways to introduce and integrate a new healthcare technology system is to unite the entire care team behind one set of communication services. Make a list of the needs of each group of providers and find a way to get a new clinical communication system that meets every need without having to use a different service for each one. Merge communication strategies and include cross-platform support and human resources needs like scheduling in this system.

Customize notifications

Another good practice is to use a new communications system to customize and modify alerts, alarm sounds and clinical alarm settings. Getting alerts to the people who need them through individual devices without using loud and interrupting noises will reduce alarm fatigue and help providers have better situational awareness. This in turn will help make them better at serving their patients.

The Joint Commission has been battling alarm fatigue since 2013 and has laid out regulations that, if followed with technological advancement, can reduce the amount of stress providers find themselves shouldering. From there, therapeutic communication in nursing can be utilized to improve the patient experience. Customized notifications will improve the ability of healthcare organizations to address these stress-related issues.

Analyze the current system

However, before a healthcare organization goes out and buys new technology, it should do a thorough analysis of its current system and see where it can be modified to accommodate provider communication needs. Many healthcare communication and computer systems have the ability to do this, but a lack of knowledge and training in this area may mean that they are not used as they could be.

Collaboration and workflow habits should be analyzed to determine what works and what doesn’t. Making a specific list of needs and wants, setting a return on investment goal and refusing to compromise when choosing a communication service will all majorly help with the decision of whether to purchase a new system and which one to choose.

Vocera Can Help

If you’re looking for a company that can help you improve your clinical communications, consider Vocera. Their comprehensive services include smartphones and wearable devices, specialty software, apps with HIPAA compliant text messaging capabilities, system interoperability services and alarm management. They also have their own training course called Vocera University, which can be used to help get all healthcare organization staff acclimated to a new system. Finally, their blog is an excellent resource for healthcare communication reference and ideas.

This communication company is great for nurses and patients alike, as it can help provide a better healing experience, which will promote positive outcomes and lower operating costs. Vocera wants to improve the healthcare industry through effective communication strategies, and so do we.