Dangers of Poor Communication in HealthcareGreg Garner
Why did you go into healthcare? Did you want to help people? What about communicating with others? Communication in healthcare may seem unimportant, but it can be a big deal.
Poor communication can lead to poor outcomes for patients. It can also cost you and your coworkers time and lead to more stress.
Read on to learn more about the importance of communication in healthcare and potential dangers.
Between Doctors and Nurses
The first type of communication barriers in healthcare happens between providers. Whether it’s between doctors and nurses or two other professionals, this can cause problems for the organization.
If the healthcare team can’t communicate, it can affect the outcomes of patients. That can make it harder for patients to recover from their ailments.
Everyone in the organization should be on board with how to communicate. That way, you can improve. Here are a few ways poor communication between doctors and nurses can be dangerous.
Nurses and doctors use forms and documentation to communicate patient information. When you have a busy clinic, you can’t have the nurse talk to the doctor about the case.
Providers at all levels should know how to document things. Be able to write clearly, and try to avoid shortening words unless you know the doctor will understand.
Of course, you also want to be as detailed as you can when documenting patient symptoms. The doctor should discuss patient symptoms as well, but having an idea of the problem can make care more effective.
Nurses and doctors should understand how to read and write medical forms. That way, they can understand patient histories to help provide good care now.
Lack of Emphasis
In most visits, a nurse is the first one to talk to a patient. If the nurse doesn’t understand how concerned a patient is, or they don’t relay that concern to the doctor, that can cause problems.
Nurses should be able to understand patient priorities and communicate those to doctors. Of course, you should mark those things down in the patient’s folder.
But you need to make it clear to the doctor how important the issue is. If a nurse and doctor have a second to talk, they should so that the doctor can prioritize that issue when they go to that patient.
Neglect can be a massive problem in healthcare. Not accurately emphasizing patient needs can keep patients from getting the attention they need.
Longer Wait Times
Poor documentation and a lack of empathy can lead to another problem in the form of longer wait times. Many things can cause long wait times, but poor communication between staff can make the process worse.
If a nurse doesn’t take a detailed record, or the doctor has to spend a long time reading it, that can delay when the doctor goes in to see the patient. The more this happens, the later and later each appointment will get.
Now, some visits can end up taking longer for reasons other than poor communication in healthcare. Sometimes, people are late for their appointments, or providers go over on time with another patient.
But poor communication between staff members is a problem. Luckily, it’s easy to solve the problem with some new policies.
Less Patient Satisfaction
Another danger of poor communication is lower patient satisfaction. When you have to make patients wait, or you don’t give the best care, that leads to many problems.
First, it can delay when the patient can get care for their issue. Second, a patient may be so unsatisfied that they decide not to return to your facility.
Losing one or two patients may not seem like a big deal. But if that keeps happening, your office may need to close.
While you shouldn’t give medication just because a patient wants it, patient happiness does matter. Improving communication can help you provide that.
Improper communication can also lead to conflicts between staff members. If someone always takes basic notes, or someone else has a problem reading them, that could cause issues.
The person who struggles to read the notes could complain to others in the office. Or the person who doesn’t like taking such detailed notes could complain about that.
You don’t have to love everyone you work with, but you do need to communicate with each other. Conflicts can lead to even poorer communication, and then more conflict.
Make sure everyone feels comfortable talking about certain things. That way, they can talk things out if they have a question or issue.
Perhaps there isn’t a problem with taking notes. But maybe the doctors or the advanced nurses feel like they’re better than the newer staff.
While some positions require more training and experience, all of them are important. The senior doctor and the newest certified nursing assistant are equally essential to providing care.
If you notice that some employees think they’re better than others, address the situation. Hierarchy problems can lead to more communication problems, which leads to worse patient care.
Everyone should be comfortable asking questions or getting help. That way, your team can help patients as best as possible.
Between Providers and Patients
Another source of poor communication in healthcare comes from patients and providers. If patients aren’t able to communicate their issues and needs, providers won’t be able to help them.
But it’s also your job as the provider to let your patients talk. Let them get out all of their thoughts and feelings surrounding their condition.
Consider a few dangers you face when you can’t communicate with patients.
Hard to Understand
As a medical professional, you probably have a good understanding of medical terms. So it can be easy to forget that most patients don’t know what things mean.
If a provider doesn’t explain those terms or use plain English to discuss them, it can be harder for the patient to understand what’s going on. They may leave the appointment with more questions, or they may not know what to do for treatment.
When using medical terms, ask your patients if they know what you’re talking about. If they don’t, explain things and make sure they understand the explanation.
It can be hard to take that extra time. But it can be worth it if it means your patient will be able to take better care of themselves once they leave your office.
Providing Wrong Treatments
When it comes time to provide treatment, a lack of communication can also be an issue. You should know what things your patients are allergic to and what medications they’re taking so that you can give the proper treatment.
But if you work in a hospital or you have a new patient, you won’t know their medical history. Patients need to be able to describe their history and needs. That way, you don’t give them something that will harm them.
This can happen a lot with deaf people and people who don’t speak English. You don’t need to be fluent in sign language or other foreign languages.
However, you do need to work to understand your patient. Even writing things down or using pictures can help.
Another way you can have poor communication with your patients is by not giving clear instructions. This is especially important when prescribing medication that your patient needs to take at a specific time or in a specific way.
You should talk about the treatment and how it works in an appointment. But don’t be afraid to also send some information home with your patient.
They can read the instructions at home and have them for reference. You should also make it clear that they can contact you with any other questions.
That way, they can know that they are taking the right dosage and at the right time. The same thing applies whether this is a short-term treatment or a new long-term one.
If you aren’t clear in your first visit with a patient, you could lead them to need another visit. While that can help you find the right treatment for them, it can also mean wasting your time and theirs.
Listening to patients when they come in the first time can cut down on the number of appointments they need. You don’t have to go through their condition multiple times.
And you can go straight into looking for the proper treatment or running tests. You’ll need to spend that time anyway, so try to do that when the patient is already in front of you.
Of course, some tests will take a separate appointment. But by listening to patient complaints, you can reduce the number of visits for someone.
Between Providers and Insurers
Another category that can affect healthcare outcomes is poor communication between providers and insurance companies. Dealing with insurance companies can take a lot of time.
No matter how you feel about dealing with insurance, it’s part of the job. Someone in your office will need to send claims to insurance for all of your patients.
But a couple of issues can happen when you don’t have good communication with those other companies.
If you don’t accurately communicate the treatment you gave, you could cause insurance to send the wrong bill to the patient. That can cause a lot of confusion, especially if the charge is higher than what the patient expects.
Patients already face high medical costs. While you can’t get rid of them entirely, you should make sure to bill them for the right amount.
Medical codes help differentiate certain procedures and treatments. You don’t need to know all of them by heart, but you should be able to use a list to find the right one.
That way, you can send the right claim to the insurance company. Then, you can save everyone from a bit of stress. And you can save time when it comes to record-keeping and report.
Not communicating well with insurance can also lead to having more paperwork. If you don’t submit a claim correctly, you may need to redo it.
You’ll need to spend time correcting the first copy or starting from scratch. Then, you may have more paperwork to store than you have room for.
Try not to rush filling out paperwork. Take your time, make sure everything is correct, and have a coworker verify the information if you aren’t sure it’s right.
That way, you can send one copy to insurance and not have to make changes later.
You also have to consider the general dangers of poor communication in healthcare. Some things are hard to control, and you may need to deal with them as they come.
But you can fix other things. The issues in this category can cause issues in communicating with anyone in the office. But that doesn’t make them any more or less important than the other dangers.
Consider how they can cause problems for you, your staff, and your patients.
If you don’t have good communication, you probably don’t have clear policies for how to do things in your office. That opens the door for people to use their own methods when filling out the documentation or doing other tasks.
When people use different methods, they may not understand what other people do. If you don’t have a standard operating procedure for each task, you can’t expect people to do things one way.
Having a lack of policies or ineffective ones can lead to a lot of the same communication problems already mentioned. Luckily, setting clear policies and enforcing them doesn’t have to be complicated.
If someone doesn’t enter patient information correctly, you may end up with technical problems. This can be a major issue if you rely on electronic health records (EHR).
Perhaps someone notices you need to update one of your computers, but they don’t tell you. You could face a lot of struggles when using that device.
Other technical problems, like inaccurate health records, could also come from technical issues. If someone tries to rush filling out a form, they may not verify that each point is true or that they’re in the right patient’s file.
A lot of issues can come from technical problems. But solving those problems can help the rest of your office.
If you don’t have effective communication in healthcare, your office could have a long wait. This could happen from a few things, such as if a nurse doesn’t communicate to a doctor that their patient is ready.
The doctor could wait unnecessarily, and they may get to that patient and others late. Then, that tardiness will continue to build throughout the day.
Your waiting room may also overflow if the receptionist doesn’t check people in completely. If that happens, the doctors and nurses have no way of knowing someone is ready.
And if the doctor does know they have a lot of patients, they may feel tempted to rush through each one. That way, they can talk to more people.
Poor communication can also lead to more pressure overall. Being a doctor or nurse is already a hard, stressful job. You have a lot of patients to care for and a lot of things to remember to do.
Add on not being able to communicate well, and you could have a recipe for disaster. Your team may end up feeling overworked or burnt out.
It will be even harder to provide good care to patients. And then, you may end up having lower patient satisfaction, thus causing people to leave your practice.
It can all become a vicious cycle, and it can be hard to break that without completely overhauling your policies and procedures.
How to Improve Communication in Healthcare
Luckily, you don’t have to fall victim to poor communication in healthcare. If you know how to identify and solve the problem, you can continue to do what you do best.
You won’t have to worry about the small communication issues that happen. Instead, you can focus on working with patients.
Here are a few steps to take if you notice that you don’t have good communication.
Determine the Issue
First, you should figure out where the issue lies. Perhaps you have a few patients that have reported some communication issues.
Then, you can focus on improving communication with those people. The same is true if one provider happens to be the main problem.
If the issue happens throughout your organization, you can adjust your processes to find something that works better. That way, you can address the entire issue.
Implement Documentation Procedures
If documentation is the central issue, you should standardize how you document patient complaints and treatment options. Make sure everyone knows how to write down complaints about a fever or cough.
Everyone should use the same system and terms. Then, anyone in the office will be able to read the records when providing care in the future.
That can cut down on the time you need to spend reviewing cases with patients. It can also help if a new nurse or doctor starts work. They can follow your process, and they can jump in easily.
Make sure you write out steps for your new documentation process. Give staff members a copy so that they can refer to it. That way, you can get everyone on the same page, whether they’re new to your office or not.
Many patients can feel unheard by their healthcare providers. The problem can be especially bad with women and minorities.
Consider training your staff on diversity and inclusion. Then, providers can learn to listen and take patient complaints seriously.
When they do, you can offer better care that day. Your patients won’t have to book another appointment or wait months for treatment.
Listening to your patients can improve communication, but it can also save lives. If you don’t listen to someone’s complaint, the problem could worsen to be beyond treatment.
But had you listened the first time, you could have caught the issue and treated it. So consider if not listening is worth the risk.
Hire an Interpreter
If you have a large population of non-English speaking patients, consider hiring an interpreter. You can have an interpreter on staff if you work at a hospital. In a clinic with appointments, you can hire an interpreter when necessary.
You can also ask your current staff if they speak a second language. If someone speaks the language you need, you can have them speak to patients for you.
That way, you don’t have to worry about language barriers preventing good care. You can use an interpreter to talk to patients, so you can get the information you need.
If you can’t find an interpreter, you can also use an app on your phone. Just make sure you follow HIPAA guidelines when using technology.
Do Team Building
If you find that your communication issues come from staff conflicts, focus on team building. Not everyone has to be best friends, but you do need to talk to each other.
Take time each week or month to have people work in groups. You can play a team-building game or even just do ice breakers for people to get to know their coworkers.
Team building can seem annoying, but it doesn’t need to take up time. If you all have a busy schedule, you could do something simple.
Perhaps you have an employee of the week, and you interview that employee about their favorite things. Then, you send out the results to everyone so that they can learn more about the employee.
Being able to work with others is essential in healthcare. And working with others is the foundation of having good communication.
Evaluating Communication in Healthcare
Having poor communication in healthcare can be deadly. It can cost you time and money, and you could compromise patient outcomes.
Luckily, you can improve communication with patients and your team. That way, you can offer better care and have less stress.
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