Effective communication is essential in any business but even more so in healthcare. The effects of poor communication in healthcare can have extremely serious consequences. As with other businesses, poor communication decreases profits but in healthcare communication failures negatively affect patient outcomes. Poor communication results in misdiagnoses and other medical mistakes that can easily lead to avoidable health complications and the death of patients.
In this article we explore some of the main effects of poor communication in healthcare and suggest strategies to adopt to improve communication between staff and for communicating information to patients.
Communication failures most commonly occur during shift changes, when care of a patient is handed over to a different caregiver. When incomplete, inaccurate, or ambiguous information is provided at the changeover it increases the probability of medical mistakes occurring. Poor communication could lead to patients receiving the wrong treatment or procedure, being given incorrect medication, or could result in delays to essential tests and treatments, all of which will negatively affect patient outcomes.
Medical safety experts at CRICO Strategies investigated 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits and found more than 7,000 of those lawsuits could be attributed to communication failures. Those communication failures resulted in $1.7 billion in malpractice costs and almost 2,000 preventable deaths. A study conducted by the Joint Commission found 80% of serious medical errors were the result of miscommunication between caregivers during patient handovers.
Effects Poor Communication Between Physicians and Nurses
The most common communication failures between clinicians involve the miscommunication of important information about a patient’s symptoms or condition and poor documentation of patient information. These issues can lead to incorrect decisions being made about treatment and delays to treatment when the severity of the patient’s condition is not understood.
As an example, the CRICO study identified a case when a nurse had failed to explain to a surgeon that a patient was experiencing abdominal pains following surgery and had a low red blood cell count, which is indicative of internal bleeding. The patient later died from the hemorrhage.
Aside from the risk to patient safety, there are other consequences of poor communication. Patients often experience long delays, often at several stages of their journey in a hospital. Many of the delays are the result of poor communication between staff. These communication issues slow patient throughput, increase hospital stays, and are a key factor in poor patient satisfaction scores and are costly for hospitals.
Communication problems occur for a variety of reasons such as ineffective policies and procedures, language difficulties, poor communication skills, workload pressure, EHR issues, poor documentation, conflicts between staff members, and ineffective communication systems in hospitals. Communication failures can also occur due to the hospital hierarchy, which results in nurses having a power disadvantage which can be a barrier to effective communication.
Effects Poor Communication Between Clinicians and Patients
Effective communication between clinicians and patients is essential during medical encounters. Clinicians must listen carefully to what patients tell them, verbally and non-verbally, and need to gather information, reassure patients, and communicate important medical advice. Most patients will not have an extensive knowledge of medical matters, so care must be taken to ensure that any information that is communicated has been understood.
Poor communication between clinicians and patients can result in misunderstandings about medications and the miscommunication of follow up instructions, which can result in poor outcomes and readmissions, and could result in a patient coming to harm. Poor communication can also result in inadequate informed consent, which can lead to malpractice lawsuits.
Summary of the Effects of Poor Communication in Healthcare
The main effects of poor communication in healthcare are a reduction in the quality of care, poor patient outcomes, wastage of resources, and high healthcare costs. Communication failures often have a negative effect on patient and staff satisfaction.
Effective communication will:
- Improve quality of care and patient outcomes
- Enhance the patient experience
- Improve patient satisfaction scores
- Reduce the cost of healthcare
- Reduce stress for clinicians and prevent burnout
Improving Communication in Healthcare
There are several strategies that can be adopted to improve communication in hospitals, especially at shift handovers, and ensure more effective communication of information to patients. These include the RELATE model (Reassure, Explain, Listen/answer questions, Take action, Express appreciation), the STICC Protocol (Situation, Task, Intent, Concern, calibrate), and the BATHE Protocol (Background, Affect, Troubles, Handling, Empathy). See Communication Strategies in Healthcare.
These communication strategies are important for improving patient safety, but staff also need to be provided with the communication tools they need. Many hospitals are still reliant on outdated communication technologies such as pagers and faxes, are not using mobile devices, and communication technologies are not integrated with EHRs.
Improve Communication by Updating Outdated Communication Systems
Modern clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) platforms have greatly improved communication in hospitals. CC&C solutions are HIPAA-compliant text messaging platforms that can be used by all members of the care team to communicate with each other efficiently and effectively. They help to ensure the right information is communicated to the right people at the right time.
The platforms are text message based, but also support audio and video calls and can be used for quick consultations, transferring all important information about patients to new shift owners accurately, and can also be used for communicating with patients and their families. The platforms integrate with EHRs, allow alerts to be sent instantly from the EHR to clinicians, and since the platforms are accessed via mobile devices, staff are not tied to any one location. Clinicians can receive the information they need at a patient’s bedside.
Hospitals that have adopted these platforms have managed to improve patient safety, reduce medical errors, increase productivity, reduce patient wait times, increase patient throughput, and significantly cut costs.