Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, according to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins Medicine. But what is causing medical errors? According to a five-year study of medical malpractice liability cases, miscommunication was the most common contributor, highlighted as a factor in 30 percent of cases. That translates to a staggering $1.7 billion in total losses, and likely steeper liability coverage premiums for physicians and/or health systems.
Medical errors and malpractice claims, while a crucial problem, are just the tip of iceberg from a financial perspective. Smaller communication breakdowns that may never lead to patient harm, or may only cause annoyance or confusion, occur daily across practices and health systems. Such errors could lead to huge costs over time through accumulated wasted care, lost time, patient dissatisfaction, and physician frustration.
Understanding the top four miscommunication causes and the three communication best practices, could help save millions in avoidable costs, and more importantly, save lives.
Top Communication Points of Failure
Before we can fix communication problems, an understanding of the causes is required. The most common healthcare communication points of failure are caused by:
- Lack of timeliness: Communication doesn’t take place when it should
- Lack of accuracy: Incorrect information is communicated
- Lack of relevancy: Information is shared with the wrong recipient or third party
- Lack of completeness: The data lacks critical facts or context, leading to misunderstanding
According to the malpractice study, provider-to-provider communication breakdowns occurred across all four categories and most often when sharing information about patients’ conditions or histories.
3 Best Practices to Better Communication
Eliminating communication problems, large and small, requires both diligence and a strategy. Conducting communication workflow analyses followed by careful assessments of the technology used for communication are good places to start. Communication technology can be the key to clarity, collaboration, quality, and safety; instead of being a tedious time suck, as are many components of an electronic health record (EHR) system. Here are the three communication best practices to consider:
Map your communication flow. Avoiding miscommunication requires healthcare organizations to understand how they communicate and where most miscommunications occur. Mapping communication processes and requirements is a good first step to eliminating ineffective communication.
Healthcare organizations should review, with an eye to meeting confidentiality and HIPAA requirements, the ways medical information is input and deleted from systems, how data is used, which integrations are needed, and how to handle updates.
Talking to and getting input from caregivers, and other people who use clinical communication so current processes are clear, will enable organizations to more easily design strategies and processes that will empower staff, not limit them.
Seek integration. Once workflows are assessed and mapped, correcting communication gaps often requires implementation of an enterprise-wide clinical communication and collaboration platform. Do not mistake an Electronic Health Record (EHR) chat application as an appropriate substitute for an effective platform. It is vital that the chosen communications software integrates effectively with all other systems, including all electronic and manually produced employee schedules, being used throughout the health organization. With dozens of different systems capturing employee schedules, integrating the communications software with each is integral to make certain that the right person gets the right information at the right time.
Seek integration and mobile options. During the workflow analysis it will become clear that all physicians and other providers are using their smartphones for clinical communication. It’s imperative from a data security, safety, and care quality perspective to give these clinicians a truly integrated clinical communication and collaboration platform that allows anyone within the circle of patient care to take rapid and effective action, just as they do in their private lives, using smartphones.
Each of these three best practices improves the care delivery process and reduces inefficient and frustrating communication processes. Eradicating the countless smaller everyday miscommunications not only equates to more timely and effective care that reduces costs, but it also helps safely increase productivity and optimize outcomes, which drives greater quality and reimbursement.