Effective Communication Between Healthcare Professionals – Best Practices
Effective communication between healthcare professionals is critical for timely and effective operations. In a modern healthcare environment, communication technologies are critical for connecting healthcare professionals with other caretakers and healthcare entities, ensuring the best, most effective, immediate care to patients.
This article examines the impact of technology on effective communication between healthcare professionals, and how to leverage technology to improve patient care and meet business goals.
In this article, you will learn:
- What is effective communication in healthcare
- The impact of technology on healthcare communication
- Three must-have components of healthcare communication technologies
- Four ways to improve communication in healthcare
What Is Effective Communication in Healthcare?
Effective communication between healthcare professionals should be clear, timely and discrete. This communication is needed to make accurate diagnoses, ensure that treatments are appropriately provided, and to ensure that patients understand health status and needs.
Often, effective communication in healthcare settings involves the ability to express complex or technical terms in a way that can be universally understood. It also involves bidirectional communication. For instance, healthcare professionals need to interpret and apply the information provided to them by other staff as well as communicate what actions they have taken.
The Impact of Technology on Healthcare Communication
In the modern healthcare environment, organizations have effective communication practices, handoffs between providers are smoother, workflows are clearer, audit trails are in place, and everyone knows who is on call. This is seen clearly in digital on-call scheduling versus legacy on-call scheduling processes.
Previously, operation managers created manual spreadsheets to manage on-call schedules of healthcare providers. Operators would then manually alert on-call providers through phone or pager. This process created waste and took a great amount of time between managing spreadsheets, ensuring that all are using the latest on-call schedules, and alerting providers about their on-call status. As a result, providers were unable to provide timely, proficient care to patients.
With digital tools, organizations can schedule the on-call physician and send automated alerts directly to the physician’s HIPAA-compliant pager replacement mobile app. Effective communication in healthcare increases accountability and allows providers to be more effective, improving patient care.
Try OnPage for FREE! Request an enterprise free trial.
Three Must-Have Components of Effective Healthcare Communication
Three components are vital to ensure effective communication among healthcare providers:
- HIPAA-compliant secure texting with audit trails and visible staff availability
- Automated scheduling with automated alert escalations
- Mass communications to distribute a message to the larger ecosystem
Sensitive patient information including names, birthdates, health conditions and treatments need to be kept confidential. Without the right tools, these requirements can make secure, efficient communications difficult or impossible to achieve.
Part of meeting HIPAA requirements is limiting data storage and transmission to a few standardized formats. This issue prevents healthcare organizations from using common communication methods but can be solved with HIPAA-compliant texting apps.
Providers and professionals can securely share information, files or instructions related to patients without fear of breach or loss of confidentiality. Compliant texting apps also provide organizations the opportunity to do away with pagers in exchange for two-way communications. Moreover, the apps are equipped with high and low-priority alerts, allowing providers to distinguish between important and less severe incidents.
HIPAA-compliant texting tools enable bring your own device (BYOD) and all the current messaging features available on modern messaging applications, such as message status notifications, picture and voice file attachments, and visibility into message participant availability.
Automated On-Call Scheduling
Automated on-call scheduling systems enable care teams to establish 24/7 patient coverage. Organizations can use these tools to ensure that the right person is available when needed. Tools can help ensure that those who aren’t on call aren’t improperly contacted, protecting staff from burnout.
Scheduling tools help ensure that contact information is readily available when needed. Schedule configurations determine who is on call, while ensuring that on-call responsibilities are fairly distributed. These systems can also ensure that on-call staff are contacted through their preferred channels, decreasing the likelihood of missed alerts.
The automated scheduler allows for definition of roles, meaning that patients or staff members always contact the same role (e.g., “cardiology on call”) and the messages get routed to the specific on-call provider’s device at that day and time. It also allows for automatic escalation to a secondary provider after a preset amount of time, if the primary one is not available.
Mass Notification Systems
Mass notification systems (MNS) are platforms that organizations can use to distribute information broadly. For example, letting teams know about scheduling changes or an entire hospital know about emergency situations.
When using mass notification systems, there are two main use cases that healthcare organizations can benefit from:
- Immediate notifications—healthcare officials or team leads can pre-set template messages that can be blasted out to a team or the entire ecosystem on demand, using a couple of keystrokes. Messages are sent via native email, SMS and/or phone call. These notifications should not include PHI, as these messages are not transmitted via a secure channel. The recipients of the mass-notification message can acknowledge the information and reports can be run.
- Tracking whereabouts—systems can be combined with RFID tags to help teams track patients or equipment. This is especially useful in organizations that serve patients who may wander off, such as those with dementia. It can also benefit teams with limited supplies of essential equipment, such as expensive scopes or diagnostic devices. In combination, tags can trigger notification systems to alert caregivers or notify providers of the location of equipment they may need.
Try OnPage for FREE! Request an enterprise free trial.
Four Ways to Improve Communication in Healthcare and How Technology Can Help
The importance and long-reaching effects of communication for healthcare professionals make it an important focus for any organization looking to improve their practices and reputation. Below are a few practices to incorporate when optimizing your own communication strategies.
1. Assess Your Current Methods of Communication
To improve your communications, you first need to understand the current standards of your organization. Take inventory of what communication policies you have in place, what methods are used, and your overall cultural message about the importance of communication.
You should also take time to evaluate how communication happens between administration and staff, staff and staff, and staff and patients. This includes asking staff how they feel about communication and what improvements they want to see. Pay special attention to areas where communication is successful and failing. You can then use these instances as a base on which to model new policies.
How can technology help?
One way of assessing your current communication methods’ effectiveness is to compare your capabilities to modern tools. For example, do you have measures in place for auditing communications or can you easily access contact information from a single source?
Understanding how your current processes compare to modern technologies enables you to identify gaps in your systems. You can also surface those tools that can provide you the greatest benefit.
2. Streamline Communication Channels
A frequent issue in communications is the complexity of channels. If staff must communicate the same information in multiple ways to multiple people, information loses consistency. Likewise, if it is too much of a burden to communicate through official channels, staff may look for workarounds that reduce the reliability of communications.
For example, if staff have to both call to report and document test results, they may choose to do only one. Or, they may be interrupted between one step and the next, reducing reliability. Healthcare settings so mandate some methods and precautions when it comes to communication that you can’t get around. However, you can make a point to try and simplify communications as much as possible by removing barriers and redundancies.
How can technology help?
A big issue in healthcare communications is documentation, which often leads to redundancy. Often, provider communications need to be documented in patient charts and files, but this creates duplicate efforts and may be overlooked.
Digital communications can be integrated with record systems to eliminate some of this duplication. For example, notifications can be sent directly from records, ensuring that communications are recorded.
3. Encourage Mobile Collaboration Between Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare organizations are often busy with urgent patient needs and tight schedules. Because of this, staff often do not have time to check emails, hunt down information, or scour through pages and pages of notes. To ensure that staff get the information they need on time, you should consider mobile communications.
Many providers are already used to pager systems and almost everyone is familiar with smartphones. You can leverage these tools, along with HIPAA-compliant messaging policies and applications to enable staff to communicate effectively and efficiently.
How can technology help?
As already mentioned, HIPAA-compliant apps can enable providers to communicate securely from a device that they are likely already carrying. This enables staff to share information and seek assistance regardless of where they are. By eliminating the need to communicate from a stationary desk, providers can see more patients and provide better care.
4. Make Communication Part of Your Organization’s Culture
At the root of the above practices should be the message that communication is valued and protected by your organizational values. It’s important to normalize the communication you want to see in your organization and to make sure to reward it.
Showing staff that communication is a goal and a cultural norm helps build trust and promotes a sense of teamwork that is not possible otherwise. It also helps you more quickly identify issues within your organization since staff are more likely to communicate what’s happening.
How can technology help?
Technologies like HIPAA-compliant messaging and video conferencing systems can help you unite teams and help familiarize team members despite differing schedules or locations. The more united your teams feel and the more familiar with other providers and professionals they are, the more likely they are to communicate.
Effective Communication Between Healthcare Professionals With OnPage
OnPage is a complete, secure alerting and notification solution trusted by leading healthcare organizations. OnPage provides on-call scheduling, HIPAA-compliant messaging, mass notifications and more.
On-Call Scheduling With OnPage
OnPage provides an award-winning incident alert management platform. OnPage’s alerting solution provides persistent, intrusive audible notifications until addressed on mobile by the assigned on-call recipient.
OnPage eliminates alert fatigue through high-priority alerting, easily distinguishable from every other mobile notification. This way, the tasked recipient will always know the severity of an alert and the need for an incident’s immediate resolution.
A key advantage of OnPage’s alerting system is its live event notifications feature, which provides real-time alerts for critical events. Here’s how the OnPage process works:
- The system recognizes a predefined event.
- The system routes the alert with an intrusive, Alert-Until-Read notification that overrides “do not disturb” mode on the mobile device of the scheduled on-call professional. There’s a low chance of missing or ignoring this type of alert.
- If you miss an Alert-Until-Read notification, it will automatically escalate to another team member.
- As a method of redundancy, alerts can also be sent as SMS, email or phone call.
HIPAA-Compliant Messaging With OnPage
OnPage’s HIPAA-compliant pager alternative enables healthcare administrators and providers to secure their communications. You can use OnPage messaging for the following purposes:
- Encryption— use OnPage to communicate via encrypted and secure text messaging between internal staff, as well as external providers and patients.
- Access control—create and manage users with varied permissions.
- Alert notifications—Override the silent switch on all devices, bring critical alerts to the forefront, which can persist for up to eight hours until acknowledged.
- Track messages—with statuses for “sent,” “delivered” and “read” receipts and enterprise reporting.
- Manage schedules— configure on-call scheduling for multiple individuals and groups.
- Set up escalation criteria— ensure critical alerts are never missed, always have a backup.
- Send media attachments—OnPage supports media files, enabling you to add images and voice attachments to text messages.
- Live call routing—direct patient calls to the on-call physician’s mobile device.
- Mute alerts—OnPage enables providers to mute messages when they are off duty and do not want to receive alerts.
- Data protection—with OnPage, you can remotely wipe sensitive patient information.
Mass Notifications With OnPage BlastIT
OnPage BlastIT helps organizations enhance their current emergency communication management plan and streamline effective communications not just with the response team but also with employees, vendors and clients in times of crisis or whenever urgent, mass notification is needed.
With BlastIT, users create editable templates in advance to expedite the crisis notification process when an urgent incident takes place. BlastIT also allows users to use free text to compose a message. The highly customizable nature allows for contextual notifications to be composed, such as instructions for an evacuation.
OnPage BlastIT reporting confirms that the notifications were sent and acknowledged. Recipients can easily acknowledge a BlastIT notification to indicate that they have received the message. This information is especially crucial to teams in times of crisis, who can act knowing that the people they serve have the knowledge they need.