What Is the Importance of Communication in Health Care?

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For hospitals and health care institutions, ensuring that patients receive proper care takes more than performing procedures and making diagnoses. Communication is a crucial component in all steps of the health care process. Whether it be a clinic accurately sharing patient information with another facility, or a group of doctors, nurses, specialists, and other staff at a hospital discussing how to treat current and incoming patients, the need for concise, effective communication is always present in the health field.

Organizations with strong communication policies can enrich their patients’ health, while those that don’t have effective procedures in place can negatively impact patient well-being. Health care professionals and institutions need to recognize the importance of communication in health care in order to thrive.

How Better Communication Practices Are Beneficial

Poor communication has been a factor in 1,744 patient deaths and over $1.7 billion in malpractice costs nationally in the past five years, according to a study published in FierceHealthcare. This shows that better communication methods would benefit both patients and health care providers. Effective communication — both intrahospital and interhospital — is important for health care providers to protect their patients, save on costs, and increase day-to-day operating efficiency. Meanwhile, patients benefit from increased access to their medical histories, which reduces chances of medical errors.

A Focus on Patient Safety

When considering the importance of communication in health care, patient safety is one of the top reasons to create an effective communication structure in any health care organization. Inadequate communication is often a leading cause of in-hospital deaths. “In a retrospective review of 14,000 in-hospital deaths, communication errors were found to be the lead cause, twice as frequent as errors due to inadequate clinical skill,” notes a 2006 study in the Clinical Biochemist Review. While communication errors can have severe consequences, these issues are often relatively easy to fix, meaning many patient deaths caused by communication errors are preventable. That fact alone is one of the most important reasons why communication is so important for patient safety.

Interhospital vs. Intrahospital Communications

There are two types of communication methods that health care institutions use that are crucial to patient safety and well-being: interhospital and intrahospital.

Interhospital

Interhospital communications involve information sharing among multiple sites or institutions. This includes transmissions between facilities owned by the same organization and between completely separate health care entities. Moving patients from one facility to another, sending medical records, and transporting vital medical equipment all require clear communication between sites.

However, hospitals often encounter obstacles in communicating effectively with one another. A study conducted by the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS) found that poor interhospital communication costs the industry upward of $12 billion annually. Inadequate communication drives up costs by preventing institutions from accessing patients’ medical files, which may create a need for duplicate tests and second opinions that would not otherwise be necessary.

Intrahospital

Problems with communication also occur among personnel within the same hospital. Intrahospital communication is any information sharing within a singular institution — whether it involves coordinating room changes, scheduling surgeries, assigning further tests, or even setting up appointments. When doctors, staff, and patients are not effectively sharing information, the efficiency of each process may decrease, potentially resulting in unnecessary costs or even danger to patients. Patient record delays, lack of procedural coordination, and even serious medical errors may all be consequences of poor intrahospital communication.

Common Communication Methods

Each health care system has multiple forms of communication that administrators and staff must be trained to use properly and efficiently. When even one of these communication methods fails, patient safety can be put at risk. A minor printing mistake could lead to incorrect dosages, or incomplete information may keep a doctor from knowing about a crucial allergy. Understanding how standard communication methods work is the first step in ensuring that a hospital is running as smoothly as possible, for both the patients’ and the hospital’s sake. To that end, here are some of the most common ways that hospitals and other health care systems communicate and share information.

Transmitting Patient Data

Patient records are shared securely via inter- and intrahospital communications. Delays in receiving records can cost hospitals millions of dollars each year in unnecessary expenses. Patient data are used to create a thorough medical history and provide appropriate medical care. When patient data aren’t shared between departments or other health care organizations, there may be a much higher chance of practice errors and subsequent increased costs.

Sharing Research Findings

The health care industry relies on research to create and improve tools and procedures. However, some third-party researchers — such as those who work for private companies or pharmaceutical labs — are reluctant to share their findings with providers because of competitive pressures in their industries. Lack of access to the latest research can stall medical advancement, waste funding, and negatively impact health outcomes, according to an article published by Forbes. For health care techniques to evolve, providers must implement communication systems that allow researchers to quickly and easily collaborate, both within the same organization and across multiple organizations.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Intrahospital communication relies heavily on collaboration between colleagues. Patients, lab technicians, doctors, and staff all need to be in constant communication to create a system that operates as smoothly as possible. Inter-colleague collaboration also includes entering information accurately into databases, especially shared ones. Inaccurate communication between departments can lead to errors in database entry, which, in turn, can potentially risk patient safety.

Coordinating Hospital Leadership

Whether publicly or privately funded, hospitals are businesses, and they need to operate as such. Hospital managers and other leaders must communicate frequently with doctors, staff, and patients. All hospital leaders and managers not only oversee administrative staff and tasks but can also play a vital role in individual patient health care plans. To be effective, they should maintain open lines of communication with those around them and also facilitate information sharing between hospital departments and with other institutions.

Telemedicine Advancements

Health care professionals are increasingly embracing telemedicine, which involves using a variety of internet-connected technologies to serve patients remotely. These technological tools play essential roles in health care communications, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

Hospitals and other health care organizations use internal online networks, or intranets, to create more efficient communication processes. This makes patient record sharing and cross-departmental communications much easier. What once may have been communicated via printed files and memos can now be shared electronically within the organization and sent to other organizations.

Telemedicine goes even further by allowing patients to receive medical care and advice from the comfort of their own homes. Using state-of-the-art communication tools, patients and health care providers are able to discuss health concerns via video chat, often eliminating the need for the patient to visit the provider’s office. Not only does this cut down on costs for both the provider and the patient, but it also creates a seamless communication experience for everyone involved.

Learn More

Graduates of Regis College’s online Master of Health Administration program are equipped with the skills to become successful leaders in a variety of health professions. Find more details about courses and future career options on Regis’ MHA program website.

Recommended Reading:

Health Information Technology vs. Health Information Management

How Hospital Administrators Empower Their Organizations

8 Health Administration Careers and Specialties

Sources:

American Telemedicine Association, “About Telemedicine”

Becker’s Hospital Review, “The Chronic Problem of Communication: Why It’s a Patient Safety Issue, and How Hospitals Can Address It”

Center for Health Information and Decision Systems, “U.S. Hospitals Waste $12 Billion Annually Because of Poor Communication”

Clinical Biochemist Review, “Communication Systems in Healthcare”

FierceHealthcare, “Healthcare Miscommunication Cost $1.7B and Nearly 2,000 Lives”