—Adapted from “How Better Communication can Improve Patient Outcomes and Lower Readmission Rates,” by Burl Stamp, Healthcare Business & Technology, Feb. 26, 2019.
Aside from top-quality providers and the latest technology, what do the most successful hospitals have that others do not? The answer is clear and effective communication across all levels and areas of care. Effective communication is central to the patient experience and important for both short- and long-term episodes of care, but it is particularly critical at key transition points in care, most notably at discharge.
Collaborative communication across the care team is just as vital as direct communication with patients. In leading patient experience surveys the question “How well did hospital staff work together as a team?” is highly correlated with overall patient satisfaction. That correlation makes perfect sense. When patients receive clear, consistent information from every caregiver, they are more confident about what to both during a hospital stay and after discharge.
Communication in a hospital or other care setting is more challenging than in virtually any other industry. This complexity traces to a number of industry-specific issues, including a high number of unique transactions during and across care episodes; traditionally siloed work processes related to diagnosis and treatment; and longstanding hierarchical barriers among care teams. Clear, open communication builds trust, reduces confusion and increases patients’ confidence, which contributes directly to better outcomes and reduced readmission rates.
Following are three overarching strategies to help organizations change the way frontline staff think about communication:
- Create a culture of communication first. To improve interactions, staff members have to understand what effective communication looks and feels like at all levels of the organization. Leaders must demonstrate best practices and reinforce communication as a priority every time they interact with staff and patients, through strategies such as organization-wide town hall meetings, attendance at individual departmental meetings and regular rounds at the frontline.
- Make it easier to communicate internally. If an organization’s culture is one that encourages open, transparent communication, then providers will feel free to question and investigate discrepancies and gaps in information. While the latest comprehensive electronic health records facilitate information exchange, they don’t replace effective interpersonal communication, either among the care team or with patients and families.
- Fully embrace a customer-centric mindset. With focused training and mentoring from managers, healthcare professionals can develop the communication skills that improve interactions with one another and with patients. An investment in improved communication practices and competencies is an essential part of improving not only patient experience, but also patient outcomes.
Ample research establishes that effective communication is essential to attaining better health outcomes. To be sure, changing both the culture of communication and the specific practices and tools used on the ground entails a significant organization-wide commitment, but the results will be well worth the effort.