Clinical Communication Paves a Path to Improved Patient Safety

By Meg DeYoung, Vice President, Customer Support Services, Advocate Trinity Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center  /  05 Aug 2013

Both Advocate Trinity Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center are part of Advocate Health Care, one of the largest health care systems in metropolitan Chicago and in the United States. With more than 4,000 physicians and more than 200 sites of care, the organization has been recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 health systems.fork-in-road

I’ve been working for Advocate Health Care in various capacities for close to 40 years, and I can attest to the truth behind the organization’s reputation. We’re committed to our patients, take pride in delivering quality care and never rest on our laurels when it comes to identifying ways to do things better. One area I’m particularly passionate about is patient safety, which we’ve been successful in improving across several facilities by tackling a lesser-known but equally critical issue: clinician-to-clinician communications.

Every health system currently faces a range of financial, operational and performance pressures. But I guarantee that most hospital leaders today underestimate the toll that communication inefficiencies take on every clinician’s ability to deliver high quality care. Those same pressures should make every facility view clinical communications as a “now” issue, elevating and examining it as an immediate patient safety concern.

The “brokenness” of a current clinical communications system is often measured by the reliance on switchboards, call centers, flow charts and (eek) even Rolodexes – which many hospitals and health systems are still using. When reviewing our own communications processes, we uncovered significant gaps in what was supposed to be a standard process, a large amount of wasted resources from clinicians trying to get in touch with one another, and in some cases increased risk to the patient. Like many facilities, we had residents with ever-changing schedules that were increasingly hard to track, and every minute our clinicians spent tracking down the right physician, on hold with a call center or redirecting a page was time taken away from the bedside – which we couldn’t afford to waste. We’ve since worked hard to repair the clinical communications workflow.

Today, those gaps are minimized or non-existent. Messages or data that needs to reach a physician – either within or outside the four walls of our facilities – are delivered to the correct clinician, in the way that they want to be contacted, at the moment it matters. Our physicians are in touch with each other and with care managers more often and with more purpose/better timing, and nurses have more time to focus on direct patient care.

While it may seem simplistic to focus on how nurses are reaching physicians, clinical communications is one of the most critical systems in any hospital or health system today. It needs to be explored, not just from a resource-management and efficiency standpoint, but from a patient safety perspective. Addressing the issue now will have both an immediate and lasting impact on a provider’s ability to deliver quality care.

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