Overcoming Communication Barriers in Healthcare: 5 Stages of a Hospital Visit Made Better with UC
Communication in healthcare is an unsung hero, especially in hospitals. When communications are efficient, they save time, money, and even lives. Conversely, communication barriers can cause all sorts of problems.
“According to our estimation, US hospitals “waste” approximately $12b annually due to poor communication among care providers. The loss, as percentage of hospital revenues is 1.93% — when juxtaposed against the average hospital margin of 3.6% (AHA), the magnitude of the waste is particularly striking.”
(Argarwal, Sands, & Diaz-Schneider, 2008)
A modern Unified Communications (UC) system can bring real, quantifiable benefits to healthcare providers. To better illustrate why communication is important in healthcare, let’s imagine a hypothetical patient, Dave, having a scheduled surgery at a hospital.
Stage 1 – Consultation
Before the surgery, Dave needs to have a consultation session with his doctor to discuss what’s involved and what he can expect during recovery.
Like many people, Dave has a busy life and is a bit forgetful. A significant percentage of medical appointments are no-shows. While the healthcare sector has learned to expect and prepare for this, missed appointments still cost providers a lot of money.
Appointment no-shows are estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $150 billion per year.
An automated notification system can reduce no-shows by reaching out to patients via phone calls or SMS text to remind them of their appointments. Some providers have office staff call patients with reminders, but having a database-driven system handle it automatically is far more cost effective.
Stage 2 – Intake
It’s the day of Dave’s surgery, and he shows up at the hospital. Now the waiting begins.
Before the surgery can begin:
- his initial tests need to go through
- he must be prepared for surgery
- surgical staff has to be assembled
- an operating room must be reserved and prepared
- a bed must be available for recovery
Achieving all of that quickly is much easier said than done. It’s likely that each of the above steps involves entirely different members of hospital staff, many of whom may be roaming the hospital as part of their duties.
The healthcare system is still largely dependent on pagers, which add extra steps to communication since they themselves have a limited ability to transmit information. As a result, a lot of time is spent tracking people down. One study discovered that nurses, on average, spent 20% of their day on communication with other staff (Hendrich, Chow, Skierczynski, & Lu, 2008).
A unified messaging system can put email, voicemail, and faxes into a single view that employees can access via mobile devices wherever they are in the hospital. That way the information is right in front of them rather than trapped behind a pager notification. Intake approvals and other management steps can be greatly sped up if the deciders can make the call wherever they currently are.
To take this concept of mobile access one step further, speech-enabled personal assistant software can help doctors access and update their calendars from anywhere, even while they’re in the car on the way in to work – a great tool for keeping everything on schedule despite the occasional curveball.
Stage 3 – Surgery
This is the point where communication issues become no longer a question of time or money, but can have a direct effect on Dave’s health. Did his surgical team review all the preliminary tests and other necessary information? Beyond the difficulty of passing crucial information around highly mobile staff, there’s a further risk of information just not making it to the facility at all.
“Three of every 10 tests are reordered because results cannot be found.”
(Technology CEO Council, 2006)
A secure fax over IP (FoIP) solution can ensure information is transferred reliably and (depending on its feature set) with the paper trail regulations like HIPAA demand. Some systems, like XM Fax, can even be designed to fax results automatically as they arrive in the provider’s database.
The danger of missing or wrong information isn’t a purely hypothetical scenario, the problem and its implications are very real. Approximately 98,000 patients die annually in the US due to medical errors, the majority of which are caused by ineffective communication (Salehi, 2018).
Systems like unified messaging and FoIP can literally save lives by making sure the proper information is in the right place at the right time.
Stage 4 – Recovery
Communication is Crucial During Convalescence
Preventing information from being misplaced or incorrectly relayed is just as important as Dave moves into recovery. As he is in the hospital recovering, his care team will need to be aware of and follow particular medication schedules and pain-management guidelines. Being there for healing and observation means that he’s not just passing between surgical staff and the nurses working the wards, it means he’s also passing between nursing shifts.
An estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers during the transfer of patients
(Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, 2012)
There needs to be a failsafe method for all Dave’s information and updates to be passed along the chain so every single nurse caring for him knows medication allergies that might have come up during intake and events or observations from his surgery.
This is where Unified Messaging solutions again prove their worth – the nurses only have to go to one inbox to see all of their notes on Dave. They do not have to check multiple locations; voicemails from another nurse on a previous shift or a paper file for faxes. It all goes to their email inbox.
Stage 5 – Discharge
Just line intake, discharge involves a complex dance of information, approvals, and staff resources. It’s very common for patients to be stuck in bed waiting for a final evaluation, discharge paperwork, or test results. Not only is this annoying for them (and customer satisfaction is becoming ever more powerful as a factor in provider business and profits (Collier & Meyer Basham, 2015)), but while that bed is in use, it can’t be ready for new patients, costing the hospital money. Once again, a solid unified communications system can draw all these loose threads together into a more efficient whole.
Discover how Unified Communications can deliver a variety of cost-saving, efficiency driving benefits for your organization. XMedius offers powerful UC solutions that can be customized to suit your needs, empowering your staff to offer the best patient experience possible.
Contact us today to learn more about how XMedius solutions can work for you.
Argarwal, R., Sands, D. Z., & Diaz-Schneider, J. (2008). Quantifying the Economic Impact of Communication Inefficiencies in US Hospitals. CHIDS Research Briefing, 3(1B).
Collier, M., & Meyer Basham, L. (2015). Patient Engagement: Happy Patients, Healthy Margins. Accenture.
Hendrich, A., Chow, M. P., Skierczynski, B. A., & Lu, Z. (2008). A 36-Hospital Time and Motion Study: How Do Medical-Surgical Nurses Spend Their Time? The Permanente Journal, 25-34.
Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. (2012, August). Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare Releases Targeted Solutions Tool for Hand-Off Communications. Joint Commission Perspectives, 32(8).
Salehi, H. P. (2018). Smartphone for Healthcare Communication. Journal of Healthcare Communications, 3(3:34).
Technology CEO Council. (2006). A Healthy System: How improved information management can transform the quality, efficiency and value of American’s health care. Washington DC. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from http://www.techceocouncil.org/clientuploads/reports/A_Healthy_System_Final.pdf
Toland, B. (2013, February 23). No-shows cost health care system billions. Pittsburg Post-Gazette.
West J, B.-V. I. (2006). Characterizing Noise in Hospitals. Honolulu, Hawaii.: Abstract presented at Inter-Noise. .