Communication Between Doctors and Nurses

Accurate and efficient communication is a key component of providing high quality care to patients. When there isn’t effective communication between doctors and nurses, care standards fall. Unfortunately, poor communication between doctors and nurses is common in hospitals but there are strategies and technologies that can be adopted to improve communication between these two groups of healthcare professionals.

Problems Arising from Poor Communication

Effective communication is a key requirement to collaborative workflow in all industries, but more so in healthcare where there needs to be constant collaboration. Healthcare is now delivered by multidisciplinary teams that can include dozens of healthcare professionals across a week-long hospital stay. When there is poor communication between these healthcare professionals, patients ultimately suffer. That could mean a longer stay in hospital, a slower recovery, or a miscommunication could have far more serious consequences for the patient and the healthcare provider.

According to research conducted by The Joint Commission (TJC), almost 60% of medical errors are the direct result of a communication breakdown, such as a failure in communication between doctors and nurses. A 2016 study published in the BMJ suggests 250,000 patients in the United States die as a result of medical errors every year. That makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States. While there are many possible reasons for medical errors, poor communication between doctors and nurses are the root cause of many of these errors, such as the failure to pass on important patient information.

There are many causes of communication problems between doctors and nurses. Oftentimes, information is not communicated properly because nurses and doctors are so busy. There may be personality clashes, issues with the hierarchical structure in hospitals and power imbalances, or simply poor communication and interpersonal skills.

One of the most common areas where communication problems result in medical errors is hand-offs, where patient care is transferred to another healthcare professional. These hand-offs can occur between nurses or between doctors at shift changes, or between doctors and nurses. At these hand-offs, important information must be communicated related to patient care. Omissions and miscommunications can result in a misinterpretation of requirements which can affect patient safety.

Improving Communication Doesn’t Just Improve Patient Safety

Doctor’s often make decisions about patients, but most patient care is provided by nurses. Neither group can work in isolation in hospitals so it is essential for both groups to be able to communicate effectively to ensure the highest level of care is provided to patients and to ensure patient safety, but there are other important benefits that come from effective collaboration and communication.

Efficient and effective communication in healthcare has been shown to improve job satisfaction and staff morale, which makes stress more manageable and reduces the potential for burn-out. With job satisfaction and morale high, staff turnover is reduced along with the problems that come from a regularly changing workforce.

By improving communication between doctors and nurses, healthcare providers can improve levels of care provided to patients, patient satisfaction scores improve which has implications for reimbursements, errors are reduced which reduces the potential for negligence and malpractice claims.

How to Improve Communication Between Doctors and Nurses in Hospitals

There is also a growing body of evidence linking better collaboration and communication between doctors and nurses to faster patient throughput, shorter hospital stays, increased patient satisfaction, fewer adverse events, and improved patient outcomes. But how can communication be improved in practice?

Several strategies can be adopted to improve communication between doctors and nurses in hospitals, including organizational measures and health IT.

Interventions to Improve Communication Between Doctors and Nurses

There are several approaches to improve doctor-nurse communication in hospitals, and while there is little evidence available on which strategies achieve the best results, each can have a positive effect on doctor-nurse communication. When developing a strategy to improve doctor-nurse communication it is important to carefully assess each approach using measurable outcomes that meet the needs of an organization.

Some of the most effective approaches for improving communications are detailed below.

Culture Change

One of the most important approaches is to work on changing the culture in an organization to one of mutual respect. That requires healthcare leaders to create an environment where there is open communication between all members of the care team, modeling of appropriate behavior, and investment in support systems. An emphasis must be placed on teamwork and the importance of each member of that team in patient care. One way to help develop teamwork is to start including nurses in bedside rounds.

Team Training

Team training conducted with a view to improving doctor-nurse communication should be focused on developing communication skills of nurse and physician leaders and improving understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. Communication has been shown to improve when there is mutual respect and trust.

SBAR Structured Communication

Doctor-nurse communication can be improved both ways through the adoption of structured communication tools such as SBAR – situation–background–assessment–recommendation. This approach to communication ensures there is a more structured form to communication and helps to ensure information is communicated in a clear and concise manner, verbally and in writing in electronic medical record systems. Situation relates to the current condition of the patient; Background relates to the medical history, medications, and presenting illness; Assessment is the examiner’s evaluation of the disease or condition of the patient; and Recommendation relates to a plan of care or any anticipated changes to the patient’s condition.

Technical Solutions to Enhance Communication Between Doctors and Nurses

Technology can have a major impact on communication in healthcare settings. One of the most important communication tools for doctors and nurses that has been introduced in hospitals is secure text messaging. Secure text messaging platforms connect all members of the care team and facilitate efficient communication across the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals can communicate with each other through desktop and mobile apps, at any time, from any location. The platforms allow medical images, test results, and text messages to be sent and for voice and video calls to be made. These platforms improve workflow and collaboration and ensure faster, more efficient and effective communication across the entire organization.