It happens far too often. A hospital will give a patient brief instructions upon discharge. The patient leaves saying they understand. When the patient follows up with their physician afterwards, they are unable to remember what exactly they were told. They tell the physician what information they think they can recall – which, of course, may not be as accurate as they think. This is just one simple example of what happens when health practitioners rely solely on the patient to deliver information from one end to the other. As you know, when a patient gives inaccurate information to their care provider, this can cause a lot of other difficulties and frustrations. It happens too often where information is not articulated properly or certain providers are not kept up to date. Patients may be given the wrong prescription doses or have to undergo unnecessary tests among many other inconveniences. When a patient’s care team are not connected and rely solely on the patient, this is where information gaps occur. In this blog post, we are going to look at three ways to close this gap and foster better communication within care teams.
1. Use a new technology
When an organization brings up the idea of introducing a new technology, the staff will naturally have questions. How do we know it’s secure? How easy will it be to implement? Will our patients be able to use it too? The key is finding the right technology that allows for all of this. These organizations take on more of archaic approach to communication at the moment, still using phones and fax machines. Although it may be effective, it can make the process of sharing information longer than it needs to be. For example, if a clinician needs to contact a physician for a consultation and the physician is not immediately available, they will likely have to go through other people whether it be a unit clerk or hospital call centre. By the time the message gets to the physician, it will have taken much longer than a direct text message would have. A recent study showed that 39% of physicians interview believe that time is being wasted because text messaging is not allowed. Although text messaging from their personal devices may not be permitted, there are some applications that allow for secure texting. The right mobile app will allow for much more than just texting too. A mobile app is the perfect platform to connect all members of a care team in real-time. It’s a platform where they can view the patient’s care plan and progress. The patient can even video conference with multiple members of their care team from the comfort of their home.
2. Establish clear contacts
In order for a care team comprised of members from various organizations to work in sync, they must know the most efficient ways to reach each other. All organizations operate differently with communication. The physician must know the best way to contact the patient’s pharmacist who, in turn, must also know how to contact the patient. This study shows that 1 in 5 Canadians with chronic conditions have experienced prescription errors or duplications. Should there be a change in a patient’s prescription, the physician cannot rely solely on the patient to pass this message along. The physician should establish a clear line of communication to the patient’s local pharmacist along with others in the care team.
3. Plan ahead
There are some situations, such as a sudden emergency room visit, that cannot be planned in advance. However, many other events can be. If the patient is about to undergo an operation, their physician should be informed if they are not already. In addition, a close loved one should not only be informed, but also know the proper pre/post operative care the patient may need help with. Many patients with multiple chronic conditions rely heavily on their informal caregivers to take care of them at home. The caregivers need to be given the information to properly do so. When everyone is kept in the loop about a patient’s care, it is much easier to avoid complications. Planning ahead can also consist of taking note of planned absences or vacations. Nothing will delay diagnoses and test results more than waiting on a practitioner who is on a two week vacation. Patients should not have to wait multiple weeks for important test results. In this case, it is helpful to prepare for any care team members absences and ensure that the patient will have a way of receiving their results. Working in the healthcare industry, you should inform your patients and their care team of any absences beforehand when possible.
It is clear that healthcare practitioners do not communicate enough with each other and even less with their patients. When a patient and their whole care team are kept up-to-date, it’s much easier to avoid complications. Whether these complications result from misunderstood instructions, inability to reach a care team member, or a lack of information, one thing is for sure: communication is key.