As healthcare leaders, we have the privilege of meeting and caring for individuals during what may be the most vulnerable period in their lives. It is our responsibility to advocate for and ensure the safety of patients when they are under our care and importantly, to equip them with the resources they need for a healthy recovery.
According to the American Hospital Association, “Today’s healthcare environment makes good communication among patients, families, and caregivers harder and harder to achieve. Hospital stays are shorter, medical care is more technologically complex, resources are constrained, and there is a growing need for patients and families to have more information about, and involvement in, care decisions.” Over the past three decades, research studies have shown that the clinician’s ability to explain, listen, and empathize can have a profound effect on patients’ biological and functional health outcomes, as well as their satisfaction and experience of care. Effective communication of healthcare information can empower patients and their family members to participate as full partners in their care, and is demonstrated to improve adherence to treatment and self-management.
With this wealth of research supporting the correlation between effective communication and health outcomes, it is clear that a structured approach to communication can measurably improve healthcare delivery. However, the importance of patient-provider communication extends far beyond the inpatient setting. When patients are no longer under the care of healthcare professionals, care teams should continue to communicate with patients to ensure safe outcomes and strengthen meaningful relationships.
Communication in Healthcare is Key to Safe Transitions
Hospital discharge can present a significant challenge for patients and their loved ones. Discharge planning is inherently complex, as providers must gather and communicate information tailored to the patient’s functional status, expressed preferences, and follow-up care instructions. Often, busy clinicians are forced to rush through discharge education and instructions, which can negatively impact the patient’s comprehension and thus, adherence to the plan of care. In fact, less than 25% of patients report that they comprehend the instructions given to them at discharge.
To prepare patients for safe transitions from hospital to home, many leading health systems have developed targeted workflows designed to improve communication during this critical juncture in the patient journey. These innovative organizations establish and sustain communication channels for care teams to support patients as they transition back to the community.
One of the most important strategies is to establish a consistent process for post-discharge follow up. To ensure patients stay on the path to recovery, it is critical for healthcare organizations to follow up with all patients through communication channels that provide the opportunity to request help and guidance during transitional periods. By proactively communicating and engaging with patients following discharge, providers can better equip patients in their transition from one care setting to the next – leading to improved patient outcomes, increased patient satisfaction, and decreased 30-day readmissions.
Healthcare Communication in Action
To identify the most important information to provide patients during discharge meetings, nurse leaders at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System collaborate with providers in outpatient clinics to better address the challenges that patients commonly encounter upon hospital discharge. With this data, nurses record personalized discharge instructions that are tailored to the patient’s plan of care – which the patient may access at home. By closing the transitional gaps in care with communication that spans care settings, UAB is empowering patients with the right information at the right time. To uncover the full case study of how UAB transforms patient-provider communication across the continuum, click here.
The True Importance of Communication in Healthcare: The Profound Impact on Patients
A trip to the hospital is distressing for patients and their families. It can be scary for patients to question what is happening or to ask for more information – and this feeling of intimidation is often compounded by the loss of functionality, which is linked to a loss of control. As healthcare leaders, we have the opportunity to preserve the dignity of our patients in the face of illness and uncertainty through patient-centered communication. To meet patients in their moment of need, communication structures must extend far beyond the four walls of the healthcare facility to reflect the complexity of today’s healthcare journey. Good communication is vital to dignified care – and our patients deserve nothing less.