Communication: How to solve one of healthcare's biggest problems

Communication issues in the healthcare industry can be detrimental to patient care, waste time and negatively affect a provider's bottom line.

During an Aug. 29 webinar sponsored by Pulsara and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, James Woodson, MD, founder and CEO of Pulsara, and William Atkinson, PhD, president of Guidon Healthcare Consulting, discussed several communication inefficiencies in healthcare and offered a solution to streamline communication across providers, improve patient outcomes and reduce waste.

Healthcare's communication problem

Medical errors cause up to 400,000 deaths per year and nearly 10,000 serious medical complications each day, explained Dr. Woodson.

"When you take a step back and look at these [errors], studies show that 80 percent of them result from miscommunications between caregivers during transitions of care," he said.

Studies also show hospitals waste $12 billion per year, or about 2 percent of revenue, as a result of poor communication, according to Dr. Woodson.

The healthcare industry's inefficient communication practices stem from several issues, including aging technologies, department specific communication protocols and the silos between prehospital, intrafacility, and interfacility care teams.

What's with the 'ancient' technologies

There are numerous communication tools used in healthcare, including emails, modems, radios, fax machines, pagers, secure messaging and phones. However, many of these technologies do not offer quick, effective communication because they are incompatible with one another or they are one-to-one communication methods that result in wasted time because information must often be repeated, Dr. Woodson explained.

"Most communication we relay in real time is vapor. It's said and it disappears. So we repeat the same thing over and over again," Dr. Woodson said.

Moreover, many providers focus on the patient, tasks and to-do lists right in front of them, instead of focusing on the providers downstream that need the most up-to-date information.

Dr. Atkinson added that quick, up-to-date and meaningful communication is especially important to patient outcomes in critical, emergency situations.

"As all of us know who have worked in emergency medicine or emergency care, time matters … and [sometimes] much of the effort that could have been used to the benefit of the patient or the teams have been lost due to communication failures."

Silos as a barrier to communication

A patient's care journey often transcends multiple healthcare entities or several departments in a hospital. However, many of these different departments and health systems use different communication technologies and have varying communication protocols, which results in having siloed, isolated teams.

Further, many of today's communication solutions solve or evaluate the problems in silos by focusing on a solution for a single service line or attempting to bridge a single gap between two silos, Dr. Woodson explained.

"We may just look at prehospital communication ... or just focus on interfacility communication care. We aren't taking a step back and trying to unite these," he added.

Dr. Atkinson added, "We've had some great solutions to individual problems, but the coordination of those solutions have been the problem."

So, what's the solution?

The solution to ineffective communication in healthcare is unified technology that presents real time data across healthcare entities to streamline communication and close any potential information gaps. This solution must be accessible to teams across all departments, health systems and prehospital networks. With a unified, coordinated communication network, teams can focus on the patient journey from start to end without disruptions.

There are three key steps to Pulsara's communication solution:

1. Create a dedicated patient channel for any condition, any method of patient arrival and any healthcare entity.  

2. Build a team to access that channel. This includes adding Emergency Medical Service providers, transfer centers, hospitals, specific individuals or specific departments. Once they have access, they will be able to securely view messages.

3. Communicate with the team. Once the team is built, providers on the patient case can communicate via text messaging, phone or video calls, sending audio clips, photos and lab results.

To listen to the webinar, click here

To learn more about Pulsara's communication solution, click here.


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