Communication Strategies in Healthcare

There are several communication strategies in healthcare that can be adopted to improve communication and ensure efficient exchange of information. Making improvements to communication between all members of the care team and communicating more effectively with patients can greatly improve the patient experience.

Poor communication increases the potential for medical errors, creates a negative working environment, and increases the cost of healthcare provision. Poor communication translates into a lower quality of patient care which will have a negative effect on clinical outcomes.

Communication failures are one of the leading causes of preventable patient deaths in hospitals. A 2016 UC San Francisco study revealed more than a quarter of hospital readmissions could have been prevented if there had been more effective communication between members of the care team and between healthcare providers and patients.

Improving communication in healthcare will not only help to ensure the best level of care is provided to patients and clinical outcomes are improved, effective and efficient communication helps to drive down the cost of healthcare provision. A study conducted by the Ponemon institute revealed that, on average, physicians waste 45 minutes a day on inefficient communications systems which costs hospitals around $1 million a year. Those costs inevitably get passed onto patients.

Effective Communication Strategies in Healthcare for Internal Communications

There are several communication strategies in healthcare that have been shown to reduce the potential for medical errors and ensure efficient and effective communication.

SBAR Structured Communications

One of the most effective communication strategies to improve patient safety is to structure conversations to ensure information is accurately transferred between two people. One of the most useful approaches is SBAR, an acronym for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation. This approach is particularly useful for nurse-nurse communications during shift handovers and for nurse-physician conversations.

Conversations should start with Situation – who is calling, to which patient the call refers, and the reason for the call. Concise Background information is then provided about the patient and his/her condition. Information is then provided about the Assessment of the patient. The caller then provides their Recommendation or asks for recommendations on the best course of action to take. The person who initiates the call then asks the receiver to repeat the information to make sure it has been understood.

Adding structure to the conversation ensures relevant information is rapidly, accurately, and efficiently transferred. It is also useful getting people to think about what they are about to communicate beforehand to ensure all the necessary information is passed on.

The STICC Protocol

The STICC protocol has been adopted in several industries for providing structure to briefings and ensuring critical information has been understood.

  • Situation – Explain the situation and the problem
  • Task – Explain the recommended course of action
  • Intent – Explain why that action should be taken
  • Concern – Explain any issues that may arise and what to look out for
  • Calibrate – Invite the person to say if they do not understand. Ask if there is any reason why an action cannot be taken and for the receiver to express any concerns.

Communication Strategies in Healthcare for Conversations with Patients

Effective communication with patients is essential for passing on essential information and making sure that information is understood. Good communication also improves the patient experienced which improves patient satisfaction. There are several communication strategies in healthcare that can be adopted to improve communication with patients.

The BATHE Protocol

The BATHE protocol is a useful for establishing a rapport with a patient and to put them at their ease. The purpose of this communication strategy is not to solve any problems the patient has, instead the aim is to give the patient reassurances and to listen to their concerns. This approach has been shown to be effective in outpatient settings at improving the patient experience and patient satisfaction scores.

  • Background – What is going on in your life?
  • Affect – How does that affect you?
  • Troubles – What troubles are you experiencing?
  • Handling – How are you handling them?
  • Empathetic Statement – E.g. That must be very difficult for you.

The AWARE Approach to Patient Interactions

The AWARE approach is a useful protocol for improving the patient experience. Healthcare professionals should Announce their presence, Welcome the patient and smile, Ask if there is anything the patient needs, Review the interaction and explain why it was important and when the patient will need to be seen again, then Exit with kindness.

Patient Teach Back

Patient teach back is a useful communication strategy in healthcare that nurses and physicians can adopt to make sure important information has been effectively communicated and understood by the patient. Patients may say they have understood what they have been told even when they are not totally clear about what has been said. This approach helps to make sure that important information has been properly understood. This communication strategy can help to prevent readmissions. After communicating information to a patient, ask the patient to repeat back what they have been told in their own words.

The Importance of Patient Satisfaction in Healthcare

The importance of patient satisfaction in healthcare cannot be overstated. When patients have a high level of satisfaction with the care they receive from a healthcare provider, patient outcomes are likely to be better. Patients are also more likely to remain with the same healthcare provider. If a patient has a bad experience, he/she could change providers and share the bad experience on social media, the internet, or word of mouth. That could easily make it harder for healthcare providers to attract patients.

Patient satisfaction is a good measure of quality of care, which is why a percentage of reimbursement for Medicare is linked to patient satisfaction scores from Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys.

Take Advantage of New Communication Tools

These communication strategies in healthcare will help to ensure information is transferred effectively and efficiently, however, communication strategies in healthcare will only go so far. Healthcare organizations also need to provide modern communication systems to facilitate better communication.  Today, smartphones and other portable electronic devices allow people to communicate quickly, effectively, and confidentially in the outside world. These technologies can also be used to improve communication in healthcare, although many hospitals are still reliant on one-way communication tools such as pagers and faxes. A great deal of time is wasted in healthcare playing phone tag, chasing up physicians and nurses to make sure information has been received.

HIPAA-compliant text messaging platforms allow all members of a care team to communicate with each other efficiently and effectively. These platforms allow healthcare professionals to keep all members of the care team in the loop and ensure information is communicated with the right people at the right time. These platforms can support text, audio, and video calls and can be used for quick consults, to contact any member of the care team, to transfer information accurately at shift changes and other patient handoffs, and allow healthcare providers to easily  provide telehealth services to remote patients.

Healthcare providers that have replaced pagers and faxes with these advanced healthcare communications solutions have been able to improve efficiency and productivity, increase staff morale, reduce medical errors, improve patient satisfaction scores, and cut costs.