The healthcare communication gap – and how to close it

Discover how effective healthcare communication can help improve patient satisfaction scores, reduce costs, and lead to better clinical outcomes.

What we'll cover

Take a wild guess. During a week-long hospital stay, how many different employees is a patient likely to interact with?

When you account for all the doctors, nurses, technicians, consultants, and other people involved, it’s certainly more than a dozen. And depending on the patient’s condition, he may also see more than one type of specialist such as an oncologist, haematologist, radiologist, and so on.

If these many people are responsible for a patient’s care, they better be on the same page regarding the patient’s condition, diagnosis, and treatment. After all, a small mistake can risk his well-being.

Despite that, internal communication is an area where the global healthcare industry hasn’t caught up with the latest tools and best practices available to them. In this post, we’ll walk you through the importance of internal communications in the healthcare industry, its challenges, and what you can do to address them.

Why is communication important in healthcare?

Caring for patients properly takes more than procedures and diagnoses. You also need an effective internal communication system. And not having one in place makes you vulnerable to gaps that can have dire consequences.

In the UK alone, the healthcare communication gap costs over £1 billion in wasted funds and resources per year. Not to mention the risk that it poses to patients’ health.

This shows better internal communication has the potential to benefit both patients and healthcare providers. It helps save costs, protect your patients, and enhance day-to-day efficiency.

Gaps & barriers in healthcare communication

The issues that widen the healthcare gap are multi-faceted. Miscommunication exists between healthcare workers and patients. And it also exists between healthcare workers, technological systems, and more. So let’s take a closer look at the main obstacles getting in the way of effective communication in healthcare.  

Outdated communication channels

The global healthcare industry boasts of some of the most advanced technology in the world. From AI to VR-assisted operations, and from 3D printing to robotic surgeries, healthcare has seen some incredible scientific breakthroughs.

Yet, it’s shocking that many medical organizations haven’t adopted the latest communication technologies. Not just that, the whole burden lies with the senior practitioners to plan and send communication materials to patients, mid-level employees, frontline workers, and other caregivers. There is no infrastructure to support streamlined multi-directional communication.

Lack of focus on internal communication 

Most organizations focus on improving communication between healthcare professionals and patients, but the gap among the healthcare professionals themselves is usually a blind spot.

Many doctors work alone. Specialist care is often fragmented. And healthcare professionals are not always in contact with each other. This leads to a lower quality of care. This is where a well-thought-out internal communications strategy is vital.

Apathy towards frontline staff

Katie Knight, a pediatric emergency medicine registrar in the NHS, recalls from a roundtable discussion among experienced NHS professionals:

“Those in senior management rarely ask for the opinions or ideas of those in junior positions.”

When decisions are being made that could drastically change the experience of those working on the frontline, it seems strange that those on the frontline are rarely consulted. The result is the formation of unrealistic rules and regulations that can’t be implemented in the real world. 

Limited technological aptitude

Gaps in technological ability affect both healthcare workers and patients. A report published by the Good Things Foundation in 2019 found that 55% of over 65s lack at least one essential digital skill.

In fact, over 50% don’t have the basic digital skills they need. This prevents organizations from truly adopting the tools that can streamline internal communication.

High-pressure environment

Healthcare workers tend to be pressed for time. These are professionals with limited resources tasked with an array of responsibilities such as meeting patients, diagnosing conditions, monitoring reports, supervising treatment, and much more. And the ongoing pandemic has added even more to their stress and work pressure.

So unless you make it really easy for them to adopt and use a new communication mechanism or policy, it’s not going to put a dent.

The pandemic has contributed to the high pressure in healthcare.

3 ways to improve healthcare communication

Good internal communication practices aren’t easy to adopt, even for experienced healthcare professionals. Here are the steps to foster better internal communication in your healthcare organization.

1. Assess your current situation

Before you zero in on where you need to go and how to get there, you should understand where you are right now. Conduct an internal audit or employee survey to get answers to questions such as:

  • How do workers communicate most often?
  • Are there any commonalities or trends in communication mishaps?
  • How are company news and policies communicated?

This is also your opportunity to solicit feedback and suggestions to address communication problems and enhance internal communication.

Implementing new methods and patterns of communication will require time and effort, but it will pay off in the end.

2. Form an internal communication strategy

Good internal communication involves everyone in the organization, but it starts at the top. It needs support and active participation from senior leadership.

When administrators and managers clearly define and communicate goals, processes, and expectations, along with aligning their own behaviour accordingly, it’s easier for employees to adhere to the same standards.

Now to clearly shape and share guidelines for effective internal communication, you must have a concrete plan. A great internal communication strategy will answer questions such as:

For more information, check out our in-depth guide to building an iron-clad internal communication strategy.

  • What do you need to communicate in the next 6-12 months?
  • Which communication tasks are manual and which can be automated or streamlined with technology?
  • What software/tools should you adopt for your healthcare facility?
  • How will you distinguish between the handling of must-read and nice-to-know updates?
  • How will you ensure and track whether important information is reaching the intended audience?
  • How can you meet the communication needs of frontline workers, technologically challenged individuals, and other staff groups?
  • How will you train and onboard staff members to align with new communication rules and technologies

3. Use technology to streamline communication

Using the right tools and technologies goes a long way in improving healthcare communication. A study found that 92% of healthcare workers think internal communication technology is “extremely important” or “very important” for the betterment of clinical results.

For example, managers can use employee communication software to:

  • Set up reminders and schedule employee performance reviews and other team meetings.
  • Share new procedures and policies with everyone in the organization (including frontline staff) with just a few clicks or taps.
  • Make certain messages mandatory and monitor electronic signatures to check whether employees have read the information.
  • Store and distribute training materials in multiple formats to make sure workers understand and can refer to the information again as needed.

Most of all, a great communication tool can empower everyone to access and share stories, updates, and suggestions across your organization. This change alone can lead to a significant boost in employee lifecycle and productivity.

Healthcare Communication FAQs

What are the three types of healthcare communication?

There are many types of communication in healthcare, however, we can generally put these types into three overall categories – provider-to-provider, provider-to-patient, and internal.

What are the 5 C's of communication in healthcare?

The 5Cs of Consultation model focuses on Contact, Communicate, Core Question, Collaborate, and Close the Loop.

What are communication barriers in healthcare?

4 barriers to communication in healthcare are using outdated communication channels, a lack of focus on internal communication, staff with limited technological aptitude, and the natural high-pressure environment staff work in.

Final thoughts

If you’ve ever looked for a job online, we bet you’ve come across the phrase —  “candidate must have excellent communication skills.”

Good communication with coworkers is a key ingredient everywhere, but it’s even more important for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.  Poor communication can put lives at risk, and cause many day-to-day issues in a hospital, regardless of your profession or department.

So use this guide to analyze the gaps hindering internal communication and start taking steps that take you close to build a company that does right by both its workers and patients.

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