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.”
Why is Communication Important in Healthcare?
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 experience of care and patient satisfaction.
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 health 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, the care team should continue to communicate with patients to ensure safe outcomes and strengthen meaningful relationships with care providers.
Communication in Healthcare is Key to Safe Transitions
Transitions of care from one healthcare setting to another are critical times for patients and families.
Whether it is transitioning from acute care to the home or from wellness to chronic disease management, they all present opportunities to miss key aspects of healthcare communication – and patient and family satisfaction.
Think about a time when you’ve had to manage a transition of patient care on your own or as a caregiver for a loved one. You might agree that these are times of elevated anxiety and heightened concern about what to expect.
From a health communication perspective, these are times where key healthcare information from the care providers to the patient is at risk of not being transferred or misunderstood, or of being understood but discounted.
Why is Communication Important in Health and Social Care?
In addition to the amount of health information a patient and family are challenged to absorb regarding new medications, follow-up care, possible physical therapy required, and clinical symptoms, Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) may also play a significant role in a patient’s recovery.
SDOH and health literacy are well-documented issues that can affect recovery following an inpatient stay. Furthermore, changes in reimbursement have led to decreased Length of Stay (LOS), which may also impact patients’ time to digest and understand the care plan before moving to their next healthcare setting.
Effective Communication in Discharge Planning
Hospital discharge especially 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.
While these issues are not clinical in nature, they can have a profound effect. Although patients may be more comfortable at home with the support of family and friends and away from the stresses of a hospital or post-acute setting, for some, this transition becomes challenging and may result in critical gaps in patient care.
Prepare Patients for the Transition from Hospital to Home Care
To prepare patients for safe transitions from hospital to home, many leading health systems have developed targeted workflows designed to improve communication methods 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 communication strategies is actually to pair two communications: the transitional care round and post-discharge outreach call.
Transitional Care Round
The transitional care round consists of a final review of the personalized discharge plan, including home care needs, durable medical equipment, transportation, patient safety information, follow-up appointments, care instructions, and signs and symptoms to monitor.
Verbal communication such as askingpermission to sit down next to the patient and pulling the chair close to the bedside can also have a positive effect—studies show that patients perceive a provider has spent more time with them when they sit rather than stand.
Patient perceptions of their care are very much informed by the quality of the communication they have with their nurses, clinicians, and every healthcare provider they come in contact with. They will remember the attention, kindness and respect they received from the health care team.
Post-Discharge Outreach Call
It is also critical that health systems establish a consistent communication strategy, for the automated process offor the post-discharge outreach calls.
The post-discharge outreach call confirms that this plan has been effectively carried out and assesses if the patient has remaining questions for healthcare professionals that can be immediately addressed.
In order to make the transitional care round purposeful, clinicians and nurses need to make time for heartfelt, relaxed and unhurried interactions with patients that do not follow a tight script.
To ensure patients stay on the path to recovery, clinicians and nurses should follow up with all patients and provide the opportunity to request help and guidance from healthcare providers.
Educating patients about the automated calls they will receive during the transitional care round, prior to discharge, and making sure they know a nurse will be available to talk to them if needed makes the automated outreach personal.
By proactively communicating and engaging with patients following discharge, healthcare providers can better equip patients to care for themselves – leading to improved patient outcomes, increased patient satisfaction, and reduced readmissions.
Healthcare Communication in Action
CipherHealth studied the effectiveness of implementing these complementary communication strategies in a retrospective data analysis of 77 CipherHealth customers, including 484 hospitals and 84,570 patients, over the course of 24 months.
For patients who received a transitional care round prior to discharge, 4.51% flagged confusion over discharge instructions during the outreach call, compared to 7.25% who did not receive a transitional care round.
In other words, a lack of transitional care round was correlated with a greater likelihood of patients not understanding their discharge instructions and needing assistance after returning home.
Patients who received a transitional care round were also more likely to complete the post-discharge outreach call.
In another study measuring the effectiveness of post-discharge outreach calls, CipherHealth found that patients who completed the post-discharge outreach call were readmitted 56% less often.
The True Importance of Communication in Healthcare: The Profound Impact on Patients
Communication in healthcare fosters trust between patients and providers.
Patients who do not trust healthcare organizations are far less likely to share critical information – medical and non-medical – that could play a key role in their health. And patient trust is built through impressions and micro-encounters outside of strict clinical encounters.
By providing tailored and timely communications, healthcare leaders can not only build trust, they can find opportunities to better care for the patient.
The bottom line is that 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.
Healthcare leaders have the opportunity to preserve the dignity of 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 methods ares vital to dignified care – and patients deserve nothing less.