Internal communications in healthcare – Understanding the domino effect

When a hospital or clinic’s internal communications are failing, it’s certain that a number of other areas will be too.

Communication, high-performing clinics, engaged staff, satisfied patients – all are linked, and like a set of dominos, if one falls, so do all the others.

Research clearly shows how effective communication in healthcare institutions improves the quality of staff relationships, increases efficiency and profoundly impacts patient safety.

Failing internal communication is an issue with very real consequences for employee engagement and organizational performance. As such, it’s no longer the province of only the communications manager. Today, this issue concerns executives at the most senior levels of healthcare.

The CIO at leading US orthopaedic clinic OrthoTennessee recently addressed their concerns over essential staff messages getting lost in the noise. They introduced an integrated communications approach which took inspiration from the consumer world.

Their custom newsletter ‘The TaleBone’ was designed to showcase news at both operational and personal levels. By designing it to more closely reflect how staff engage with information outside work, they reduced staff perception of it just being corporate spin.

Important but less urgent messages were conveyed through a scrolling desktop ticker. In this way, updates on operational issues or daily patient census were delivered with high visibility but without unwanted disruption.

Screensavers were found to be surprisingly effective. Beyond just visual reinforcement, managers found success in using them to promote positive behavior and build culture, for example around the charity events which formed a core part of the clinic’s values.

Karen Clark, Chief Information Officer, for Ortho Tennessee, emphasized the value in taking inspiration from consumer methods of engagement to improve workplace communication.

Clark felt that, “The communication method, the newsletter, the screensaver, a ticker, is so intuitive and so in tune with the way they’re getting information in other areas of their life, that it just seemed very natural to them. It didn’t seem like a big change, which was really terrific. It makes the whole experience a little bit more exciting.”

The danger of the domino effect was very real to managers at Wallowa Memorial Hospital. They were concerned that staff were missing critical messages. This meant staff were be unaware of incidents, which caused hospital Helpdesks being inundated with calls, in turn impacting on technicians’ ability to resolve issues quickly and return to normal service.

With medical staff in conference or operating rooms, the use of desktop alerts to instantly appear on computer screens, bypassing emails and other systems, was essential for maintaining the smooth running of the hospital.

Impacted patient care was the feared consequence of poor internal communications for East Berkshire Primary Care Out of Hours (EBPCOOH) in the UK. Busy staff who neglected tasks could inadvertently put the operations of the clinic at risk.

Timely task reminders via desktop tickers and alerts minimized this domino effect. The burden on staff needing to remember everything was reduced, thereby streamlining clinic efficiency and improving productivity.

Patrick Rogan, Chief Executive of EBPCOOH, affirmed the value of this approach. Rogan said that “staff get notified directly in front of them when they have to do a certain task and this improves the quality of the service that we provide to our patients.”

Modern communication tools, like those used by these hospitals and healthcare clinics, offer much to improve engagement and performance in modern healthcare workplaces.

A patient loose in the wards; a nurse who has been assaulted; an extreme weather event. For incidents such as these, deploy desktop alerts which instantly pop-up on all staff computer screens. Use bold text and color-coding to advise the threat level and encourage action, without the risk of panic from audible alarms. Alerts are particularly suitable for staff with hearing difficulties.

Administrators can improve the readership of their messages by targeting them. Rather than communicating with everyone, send notifications to affected users only. For example, staff working in multiple locations may only be interested in messages about their specific workplace – other locations are irrelevant to them.

Make use of the success reports available in communication tools. Insights on message performance can help tailor future messages to be more effective.

Involve staff themselves where possible. Consider introducing a communication satisfaction survey to understand their preferences. This benefits healthcare institutions by assisting in the evaluation of internal communications, as well as building trust with staff.

Internal communication is the thread which connects and supports clinics, staff and patients. It’s vitally important to organizational health. Clinics like OrthoTennessee have found that to meet the demands of an evolving industry, future-focused internal communication solutions are essential.

About the author: Michael Hartland is an Internal Communication Specialist at SnapComms, a leading provider of digital employee communication solutions.

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