3 Ways Effective Communication in Nursing Improves Patient Care

07.16.19 TigerConnect Healthcare
3 Ways Effective Communication in Nursing Improves Patient Care

The best health professionals are always looking for strategies and tactics to help them improve the patient care experience. And the best strategies and tactics are a win not only for patients but also for the clinicians who deliver patient care.

Communication in nursing is a central element of the healthcare system. When done right, everybody wins.

We’re going to explore three ways that good communication results in better patient care.

But first, we need a definition.

What do we mean by “Effective Communication in Nursing?”

For this post, we’ll define effective communication as:

All verbal and nonverbal communication between nurses and other health professionals that conveys timely and relevant clinical information to the right people, resulting in better outcomes for the patient, their family members, their care team members, and the health facility that provides the patient care.

Now, a reasonable reaction to that definition is “better than what?” And the simple answer is, better than how the outcomes would be with less effective communication. In other words, effective communication can’t guarantee a positive outcome, but it will produce better outcomes than weak and ineffective communication.

You’ll also notice this definition doesn’t limit our topic to the nurse-patient relationship. Granted, communication between nurse and patient is tremendously important – perhaps even a matter of life and death.

And you can quickly find dozens of online articles and papers giving nurses useful tips for communicating with their patients. Like these:

  • Speak slowly and clearly but not loudly
  • Maintain eye contact
  • When speaking or listening, turn your face and your body toward the patient, and when possible sit next to them
  • Practice active listening and do not interrupt
  • Pay attention to nonverbal communication, such as body language, posture, and gestures – both yours and your patient’s
  • Demonstrate compassion, patience, and empathy
  • Avoid medical jargon, foul language, slang, sarcasm, and deception
  • Be sensitive to religious and cultural differences
  • Consider how your words could be interpreted – or misinterpreted – by the patient

These are, of course, essential skills for any nurse to learn and improve. They support the definition and goals of effective communication in nursing.

But we’re not addressing communication between nurses and patients here. Instead, our focus is communication between nurses and their clinical colleagues – doctors, emergency room staff, patient transporters, therapists, dietitians, nurse managers, lab and radiology techs, and so on.

Because the quality of communication between nurses and the entire patient care team impacts not only patient outcomes and the overall patient experience but also many other metrics. In a minute, we’re going to list these other metrics and then dive into three specific examples where effective communication brings better patient care.

But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.

Why is effective communication important in nursing?

What have we learned about the link between communication and patient outcomes?

The Joint Commission published seven National Patient Safety Goals in 2017. Goal #2 was to “improve staff communication.” Specifically, their goal was to “get important test results to the right staff person on time.”

Certainly, they were aware of these Joint Commission findings:

“Ineffective hand-off communication is recognized as a critical patient safety problem in health care; in fact, an estimated 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers during the transfer of patients. The hand-off process involves ‘senders,’ those caregivers transmitting patient information and transitioning the care of a patient to the next clinician, and “receivers,” those caregivers who accept the patient information and care of that patient. In addition to causing patient harm, defective hand-offs can lead to delays in treatment, inappropriate treatment, and increased length of stay in the hospital.”

Then there’s this from the American Nurses Association:

“There is a well-established link between team communication, worker morale, and patient safety. Poor team communication has been directly linked to preventable medical errors, high nurse turnover rates, and low morale. Poor team communication has been cited as the number one cause of unnecessary patient deaths related to medical error since the 1990s.” – citing To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System from the Institute of Medicine

And finally, CRICO Strategies reports this statistic:

“Miscommunication among clinicians was a contributing factor in 32% of [malpractice] cases with a medication administration error.”

We get it. Poor communication between clinicians hinders their healing mission – or derails it entirely.

Navigate Your Way to Better Communication

Navigating the Phases of Clinical Communication

There’s a high price to pay for ineffective communication. However …

When nurses communicate effectively with other clinical health professionals, the benefits can improve at least a dozen key metrics:

  1. Bed utilization
  2. Efficiency of patient transport and discharge
  3. Elapsed time between ordering tests, getting results, and deciding next steps
  4. Medicare reimbursement
  5. Medication administration errors
  6. Nurse job satisfaction
  7. Nurse productivity
  8. Patient Length of Stay (LOS)
  9. Patient readmission rates
  10. Patient safety
  11. Patient satisfaction and HCAHPS scores
  12. Response time to in-hospital medical emergencies
  13. Time spent waiting in the ER

Now, when you consider the impact of something as simple as communication and then look at each of these items, does it seem like we exaggerated so we could pad the list and dazzle you with oh-so-many benefits?

Well, we didn’t.

Fact is, we’ve seen healthcare organizations implement the type of effective communication we’ll discuss below, and they describe marked improvements in multiple metrics from the list above.

So how did they do it?

The Role of Clinical Communication & Collaboration Technology in Nurse Communication

Gartner uses the term Clinical Communication & Collaboration (CC&C) to describe technology-based systems that help fix communication problems. And over the past 10 years, we’ve seen rapid development and rollout of hardware and software systems that support communications and improve the above metrics.

The typical CC&C system is a mobile phone and a secure, HIPAA-compliant, feature-rich texting system. This one device and user interface replaces outdated and inefficient processes built around faxes, voicemail, pagers, and paper notes and forms.

This system not only lets you send a secure message to any other clinician but also tells you when they’ve read it. No more wondering if the message got through. A big win for communication in nursing.

And keeping track of Care Team members? No problem. The app automatically swaps clinicians in and out as shifts change. Nurses don’t have to know who’s on the floor. The app knows, and always reaches the right person right away. Another big win for communication in nursing.

Furthermore, best-in-class CC&C apps integrate with your EHR, scheduling, nurse call, lab, and radiology systems. They display images from your PACS, which means you can view a radiology image wherever you are. There’s no need to race to a computer and log in to the system. And one CC&C system can even boast 99% uptime and HITRUST CSF certification. Several more big wins for communication in nursing.

These CC&C systems bring fundamental shifts to how nurses communicate with health professionals, and consequently to patient care and patient outcomes.

But enough background. At this point, we’ve set the stage. It’s time to open the curtain and experience the drama of CC&C solutions in action!

A care team member using TigerConnect clinical communication and collaboration platform.

3 Examples of Effective Communication in Nursing

Example #1

Patty, the patient, is lying in her hospital bed, not feeling so great. She presses the nurse call button.

Nancy, the nurse, is alerted by her mobile device immediately. She takes the first opportunity to check in on Patty.

Patty describes what she’s feeling, and after Nancy checks Patty’s blood pressure, she suspects sepsis. She pulls out her cell phone and sends a message to the hospital’s Sepsis Response Team. Nancy doesn’t know who these clinicians are … but her CC&C app does.

The app notifies each clinician currently staffing the Sepsis Response Team and automatically assigns them appropriate role-based tasks.

Uh oh. The charge nurse can tell the Intensivist hasn’t responded yet, so she makes a VoIP voice & video call directly from the app to reach the Intensivist. Now the entire team is engaged, and Patty is getting the appropriate treatment.

Then, six hours after Patty’s treatment, the app’s EHR integration alerts the current members of the Sepsis Response Team to revisit Patty. Nancy redraws Patty’s lactate to confirm the end of this episode.

What’s one way the CC&C system brings better communication in nursing and improves patient care?

Nancy’s device is always with her, and all relevant information is always at her fingertips. She doesn’t need to walk to a computer and log in to the EHR. She doesn’t need to look up members of the Sepsis Response Team. She doesn’t need to call or page or hunt down any of them. Nancy loses no time during a serious patient event where every minute counts.

Example #2

It’s discharge day for Patty, and she’s eager to go home. She presses the call button to ask when she’ll be discharged.

An alert goes off on Nevin, the nurse’s smartphone. As soon as he has a moment, he checks in on Patty.

Patty remembers the discharge process from a previous stay at another hospital. She expects a series of delays, but at least wants to get the process going. She hopes it won’t take six hours like last time.

But Patty’s in for a happy surprise. Because Nevin has already received a discharge alert for Patty, and without leaving the room, can tell her she’s scheduled for discharge within two hours.

And at about the same time in another part of the building, Phyllis, the physician, is using a bedside voice assistant to initiate the discharge process. Phyllis’ action alerts the entire Discharge Team and sets up everyone’s task list.

After all Discharge Team members have finished their tasks, the CC&C system detects that everything is ready and sends an automated message to Transport and EVS.

Less than two hours later, Patty is transported and discharged. The CC&C system sends a Discharge Summary to Patty’s PCP.

What’s one way the CC&C system brings better communication in nursing and improves patient care?

Nevin can communicate with the entire Discharge Team with minimal messages and delays. He monitors their progress, and if there’s a problem, he can contact the right people right away. The discharge process is highly efficient. Faster discharges ensure fewer patients remain past the cutoff time, which removes the risk of acquiring a (totally avoidable) nosocomial infection.

Example #3

Patty got home safely and is recovering well. But four days later, she notices her husband, Steve, starts slurring his speech. Then he loses mobility in his right arm and leg.

Patty and Steve are having a really bad week.

Patty recognizes the signs of a stroke and calls 911 right away. Emma, the EMT, arrives 12 minutes later.

After a quick assessment, Emma confirms Steve is having a stroke. Emma opens the CC&C app on her cell phone and texts Eddie, the ED Charge Nurse, at the local hospital. Eddie reads the Stroke Code and short clinical story from Emma, then forwards the message to the Trauma Team.

Steve arrives at the ED, where the Trauma Team had already mobilized for his arrival. The ED physician is alerted and reassesses Steve for tPA. Next, the ED physician enters the Stroke Code into the EHR, which activates the Stroke Team.

Steve heads off for a STAT CT, and the radiologist confirms ischemic stroke. The ED physician orders tPA and the order is received by Pharmacy within seconds. Minutes later, an ED nurse is injecting the tPA.

What’s one way the CC&C system brings better communication in nursing and improves patient care?

Because the EMT has access to the hospital’s CC&C system, Eddie the ED Charge Nurse is aware of Steve’s stroke before Steve even arrives at the hospital. Eddie organizes the Trauma Team so they’re ready to begin treating Steve as soon as he arrives. Stroke patients bypass the ED for direct CT scans and faster door-to-needle patient care in an extremely time-sensitive treatment protocol.

Each of these three examples demonstrates how Clinical Communication & Collaboration solutions support the definition and goals of effective communication in nursing.

But that’s not the whole story for CC&C systems. You may be interested in learning how they can also help you improve your efficiency, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Conclusion

We’ve laid out the big picture. We defined effective communication in the context of nursing, and we saw three ways Clinical Communication & Collaboration systems improve communication in nursing by helping nurses do their jobs faster, better, and with less effort. We’ve seen how they eliminate barriers to effective communication.

As you consider the benefits of CC&C solutions, you may wonder if it’s worth it to move closer and closer to the vision of full CC&C implementation.

Here’s the good news: There’s no financial cost for learning more. Some of the most advanced solutions come from TigerConnect. Spend some time on their site. This is a rare opportunity to deploy technology quickly and have an immediate positive impact on nurse productivity, job satisfaction, and patient outcomes.