Effective communication between staff and patients is important for the success of any healthcare organization. It can impact patient safety, potentially leading to a safety event or improper diagnosis if communication is ineffective, even affecting how patients perceive their level of care.1 Communication is also a critical piece of a positive healthcare workplace.2
Taking steps to enhance communication among your entire team can help create a better, safer environment for both your employees and patients. Try these five steps for improving communication at your healthcare organization.
1. Incorporate effective communication in your organization’s mandatory training program
It’s hard to expect employees to communicate effectively if they’ve never been taught to do it. During mandatory training sessions, teach employees how to:
- Ask clarifying questions (example: “When you say that it hurts a lot, what does ‘a lot’ mean to you?”)
- Validate and verify patients’ thoughts and feelings (example: “You mentioned that your symptoms are worse in the morning, is that correct? How does that make you feel?”)
- Engage in empathetic listening (example: “That sounds incredibly stressful. I’m sorry that you’re going through that.”)
Make sure employees understand the elements of an effective two-way communication dialogue, both with managers and with the patients they care for.
2. Make communication part of your organization’s culture
You may find that it’s not enough to simply tell your employees about the importance of communication – you must show them. When leaders of your organization model positive communication behavior and make it a core part of the workplace culture, employees can feel encouraged to do the same.
One way to improve healthcare communication between staff members when communicating about patients is by utilizing a SBAR communication structure.3 This stands for:
- Situation – what is the reason for the patient’s call or visit?
- Background – what is the patient’s health history?
- Assessment – what is going on with the patient today?
- Recommendation – what is the best course of action?
You might also incorporate communication into employee feedback and evaluations, rewarding employees who engage in good communication.
3. Implement patient satisfaction surveys
Receiving feedback from patients gives you insight into how your facility’s patient experience can be improved. Patient surveys help determine reasons for complaints, questions, or concerns. Additionally, they can shed light on what your team is doing right.
Consider using surveys to gain valuable feedback and assess what type of changes can be made to enhance communication between your staff and patients. Questions to ask on your survey include:4
- How easy or difficult was it to book your appointment?
- Did you feel that the staff was empathetic to your situation and needs?
- How long did you wait while in the office before being seen?
- How satisfied were you with your healthcare staff?
- How likely are you to refer our office to your family and friends?
4. Schedule regular meetings for employees
Learning and professional development are key to improving overall communication skills. Schedule regular monthly meetings with your staff to discuss patient survey feedback and areas of strength and weakness.
This provides the opportunity for employees to share their thoughts and ideas for improvement in a group setting, which encourages collaboration and open exchange of information. Your employees may have valuable ideas on how to improve communication in real-world scenarios that you might not have considered.
5. Utilize technology when appropriate
Healthcare facilities are required to enter patient information into electronic healthcare records (EHRs). Quality care comes from informed care, and EHRs are important for communicating with providers about patients’ medical histories and needs. It’s important that employees know how to use these systems effectively so that patient data is accurate, private, and easily accessible for physicians who need it.
A good EHR training strategy includes:5
- Super-user training, or training provided by staff members who already effectively use the EHR system
- Role-based training, or tailoring EHR training based on the staff’s specific roles
- Process-based training, or training that provides staff greater understanding of how the EHR process fits into the company’s workflows
Effective communication starts from the ground up and is reinforced by practitioners who lead by example. By building a foundation of meaningful communication at all levels—from entry-level to executive management—your organization will be better equipped to provide quality patient care.
1 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Approach to Improving Patient Safety: Communication. https://psnet.ahrq.gov/perspective/approach-improving-patient-safety-communication
2 NursesUSA. Investing in the Future: Positive Workplace Culture in Healthcare. https://nursesusa.org/article_positive_workplace_culture_in_healthcare.asp
3 HIPAA Journal. Communication Strategies in Healthcare. https://www.hipaajournal.com/communication-strategies-in-healthcare/
4 LeadSquared. 10 Best Patient Satisfaction Survey Questions. https://www.leadsquared.com/patient-satisfaction-survey-questions/
5 HealthIT.gov. How Should I train My Staff? https://www.healthit.gov/faq/how-should-i-train-my-staff