Terry Edwards

Put down the phone, and other communication lessons from healthcare professionals

By Terry Edwards  /  04 Aug 2015

Nowadays, there are a dozen different ways we can communicate with one another. We can stop by in-person and talk face-to-face, or pick up the phone and chat. We can use Facebook to ‘Like’ life updates, email an interesting article, text to say we’re running late or use Instagram to share a memory. Some of these modes of communication have been around forever, but for others, we’re still continuing to teach each other the rules of the road and associated etiquette.

Healthcare is facing some of these same communication challenges. While no one is using Snapchat to send patient updates (as far as I know!), communication within the EHR or via text is still fairly new. According to a recent survey of 955 healthcare professionals[1] conducted online by Harris Poll and commissioned by PerfectServe, there’s a big gap between the way clinicians are communicating and the way that they’d prefer to communicate.

Lessons learned

  1. When possible, speak in person. According to the recent survey, face-to-face communication is preferred for complex or in-depth conversations within their organization (41 percent for physicians; 37 percent for non-physicians). Nurses in particular appear to prefer face-to-face communication; for example, 55 percent of nurses surveyed say their preferred method is face-to-face communication for complex or in-depth conversations with physician care team members within their organization. Many of the clinicians I work with say speaking in person allows them to have some time to focus on the conversation, and also gives them the opportunity to build a stronger rapport with their colleagues, which can make it easier to foster care coordination.
  2. Be careful of overusing the phone. Clinicians say that phone calls are by far the most frequent form of communication with care team members outside their organization. For brief communications, 55 percent of clinicians say they most frequently use a phone call to connect with physician care team members outside of their organization, and 48 percent most frequently use the phone to communicate with non-physician care team members outside of their organization. But only about a quarter of clinicians actually prefer phone calls for that kind of information sharing (29 percent for brief communications with physician care team members outside of their organization; 25 percent for outside non-physician members). Interruptions are often cited as a challenge, with more than two-thirds (67 percent) of clinicians saying they often receive pages or calls that are of low priority, which disrupts patient care.
  3. It’s okay for communication to flow in one-direction. Many of the communications that occur in healthcare are brief updates – a patient has been discharged or the lab results are available – that do not require a response. These kinds of communications are so important to make sure that care is coordinated and that all members of the care team are informed, but don’t necessarily require a two-way conversation. Clinicians responding to the survey were more likely to state a preference for communicating brief information or questions via text messages or communications within the EHR than phone calls when communicating with both physician and non-physician care team members outside of their organization.

As healthcare professionals collaborate with each other more and more, it’s so important for us to get communication right. So how do you prefer to communicate? Will healthcare professionals develop an informal “etiquette” for communicating different types of health information?

About the Survey
The PerfectServe survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of PerfectServe between February 12 and March 6, 2015. The research was conducted among 955 hospitalists, primary care physicians in offices, specialist physicians in hospitals, specialist physicians in offices, hospital administrators, office managers/practice administrators, nurses in hospitals, and case managers.

[1] “Healthcare professionals” includes hospitalists, primary care physicians in large offices, specialists in both hospital and office settings, nurses in hospitals, case managers, hospital administrators and office managers.

[2] “Clinicians” includes all physician categories surveyed, nurses and case managers, and excludes hospital administrators and office managers.

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