Why communication is a patient safety issue

Why communication is a patient safety issue

Effective and efficient communication can help create a culture of excellence which in turn delivers value for patients, families, and fellow caregivers.  This value enhances outcomes, safety, and efficiency of care. It also helps patients go home with a plan to restore health and lessen the chances of repeat visits and hospital readmissions.

A study at the University of California, San Francisco, found more than a quarter of hospital readmissions could be avoided with better communication among healthcare teams and between providers and patients.

“A culture of safety is dependent upon moment to moment conversations between caregivers and patients,” says William Maples, MD, CEO of The Institute for Healthcare Excellence.

“How we communicate helps define the culture we create – and clearly drives teamwork. It helps us have meaningful conversations and connect in a way that creates a positive emotional tone.”

There are several indicators that communication is having a positive impact on safety:

  • Effective communication improves perception of teamwork, which is at the heart of safety
  • Effective communication allows for the ability to give authentic and constructive feedback necessary to create a learning environment and safety culture
  • Effective communication can foster psychological safety and promote a willingness to speak up in constructive ways
  • Effective communication promotes teamwork across teams

It’s important to nurture the communication skills to enable the best possible conversations.

“First, are we having the conversations at all, and if we are, are we creating a respectful, considerate, trusting environment,” Dr. Maples asks.

The ability to give open and honest feedback, and to not feel like you’re being criticized or punished in the process of giving feedback is key to creating a safe and trusting learning environment.

“When we don’t have the tools to know how to speak up, it can actually be a detriment for a team that’s attempting to develop a culture of safety,” Dr. Maples says.

Another key element is support from the top. When management views creating a culture of safety as a priority and supports this message, it will help move the culture in a positive direction. And when management’s actions match the message, and are transparent, it catalyzes cultural transformation.

There are three things that can help healthcare organizations develop a culture of safety:

  1. Develop effective communication skills. Skill development cannot be over-emphasized. “We think people come to the table with communication skills, and they may, but we tend to suppress them as we go through our medical career,” Dr. Maples says.
  2. Create a common language and common expectations across the entire healthcare team. Once you provide the skills, organizations can hold caregivers accountable for demonstrating the skills, and provide constructive feedback when a caregiver is not demonstrating the skills in a healthy and respectful way. This can be achieved when a common language and common expectations are provided.
  3. Demonstrate commitment from leadership. Management’s actions should follow words. Leadership will provide the support to hold each other accountable, and the necessary resources to move forward.

The cascade effect
When communication is efficient and effective, the patient and family experience an increase in value of care. By the same token, the bedside caregivers, including the physician and the nurse benefit from creating a team-based and trusting environment.

“Everybody goes home with the sense of ‘we’re on the same team.’ This invokes a sense of appreciation and creates positive emotions which foster engagement and safety for the entire team – with the patient at the center of the team.” It’s a win for everyone involved.

Join Dr. Maples at The Institute for Healthcare Excellence’s Regional Summit in San Diego, Monday, April 30, 2018. Expand your knowledge of effective communication in healthcare.

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