Communication breakdowns are taking a huge toll on doctors, patients and our healthcare system

Communication breakdowns are taking a huge toll on doctors, patients and our healthcare system

April 07, 2020
Linda Fischer
By Linda Fischer

Miscommunication between healthcare professionals – and sometimes a lack of communication altogether – often result in preventable medical errors, and sadly, even death.

During my 22 years as a hospital CIO, I saw communication breakdowns happen far too regularly in healthcare, even within the four walls of a single facility. For example, such failures often happen when patients are being discharged from the emergency department (ED) and waiting to be admitted as an inpatient.

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The scenario goes like this: To admit an ED patient to the hospital, an ED physician must request an admit order from the attending physician. Many times, the ED physician will need to verify this step as the attending physician will be adamant that he or she was never contacted. As they sort out these issues and work to find a bed, the patient is in limbo in the ED waiting room, an area that many healthcare professions consider the most dangerous place in a hospital because of the potential complications from long wait times.

For more than 20 years, experts, academia, and think tanks have been examining how communication breakdowns contribute to errors and increase costs. Yet poor communication between care team members continues to increase the risk of hospital readmissions and add to healthcare costs, according to a 2016 study in Jama Internal Medicine, which identifies communication as a high-priority for improvement.

Fortunately, new technologies are improving healthcare communication in ways that improve care collaboration and patient outcomes, as well as meet requirements for value-based care and CMS’s new expectations for keeping patients fully engaged and informed. Providers now have access to secure collaboration tools that support HIPAA-compliant communication, telehealth, texting, and image sharing. By adopting such solutions, healthcare organizations can drive better care and improve patient safety. In fact, many healthcare providers are already reaping the benefits of these secure platforms.

Paramedics deliver safer, faster care
At King’s Daughters Medical Center in Mississippi, paramedics responding to emergency calls use secure texting to relay critical information to the ER while the ambulance heads to the hospital. This practice is particularly beneficial with certain medical emergencies, such as stroke, where every minute counts. First responders can securely access patients’ medication histories, minimizing the risk of life-threatening drug interactions on the scene. On the way to the ED, EMTs coordinate care with the emergency team by sharing health status, medication history, and even images. With this information in advance, hospital staff can mobilize the right resources, like a stent team or a neurologist, as well as start the admissions process, and create test orders, so they are fully prepared when the patient arrives.

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