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5 Tips to Improving Nurse-Physician Communication

improving nurse-physician communicationIf you’ve ever requested information from a health care representative and received the response, “I’m not sure, you’ll have to speak to someone else,” you know the frustration of disconnect within an organization. While every employee cannot know everything, the team as a whole should be aware of as much information as possible—the care of your patients depends on it.

Nearly 60% of all health care errors are due to poor communication, according to The Joint Commission. Annually, these errors result in 44,000 to 90,000 patient deaths.

Efficient nurse-physician communication is key to help prevent errors and improve patient care.

Approximately 1.5 million Americans encounter an adverse event as the result of a medication error, according to The Institute of Medicine. These instances equate to nearly $3.5 billion in avoidable expenses. Miscommunication is the root cause for these avoidable events and costs.

A large part of communication inefficiencies come from the hierarchical structure of health care organizations. There are many professionals working together with varying backgrounds and training methods, making it difficult to comprehend how each member operates.

Even something as simple as gender can differentiate how an individual prefers to communicate. For instance, women typically prefer to have an in-depth conversation with many details, whereas men usually opt for briefly covering the high-level details.

Sharing information with individuals at a skill level different than your own can be intimidating. To ensure communication is effective and the patient is receiving the appropriate care, that intimidation must be set aside and misunderstandings must be admitted.

Aside from personal barriers, training inconsistencies and misinterpretation, communication can become distorted simply because health care facilities can be hectic. With multiple patient handoffs happening throughout the day, it can be difficult for physicians’ and nurses’ schedules to align properly to share patient updates. This issue can be improved through implementation of proper procedures.

5 ways to improve nurse-physician communication at your health care facility

  1. Include both patients and family members in bedside round conversations. Many facilities operate in this fashion to ensure communication is interpreted correctly by all. Not only does this provide a great opportunity for the nurse and physician to share information with one another, but also makes the patient and family members feel involved in the decisions and trustworthy of the medical team.
  1. Make it known that nurses and physicians are a team, not separate units. Without the other, neither would be able to provide satisfactory care. To improve in this aspect, organize teamwork and/or collaboration exercises. As a start, refer to patients as “our” patient rather than “your” or “my” patient. This simple change in wording instantly makes providing care feel more like a team effort.

Another, more extensive, step is to include stress management training for employees. This is a proactive measure to ensure each team member knows how to handle stress if and when it arises.

  1. Nurses should present organized, well-informed information to physicians with the chart in hand. This will help to avoid confusion or misinterpretations when relaying patient data. One way to streamline conversation appropriately is by using the SBAR tool. The SBAR tool is a way of communicating in a way that provides structure so that all the important topics are discussed. SBAR covers the situation (S), background (B), assessment (A) and recommendation (R).
  1. Get familiar with coworkers preferences. Nurses can ask doctors which methods they prefer and vice versa. Being direct and asking upfront helps to clearly outline expectations and delivers a feeling of mutual respect for one another.
  1. Have respect for one another. Know everyone’s name and refer to them as such. If you don’t know someone’s name, simply ask. Inquiring alone shows that person that you care enough to learn about them. Doctors should always act as leaders, not as commanders. Being cordial and caring about each nurse individually is a great way to go about doing so. Always be willing to provide or partake in a learning opportunity—this goes for both physicians and nurses.

Showing respect for another not only means complimenting a job well done—which should be offered whenever deserving—but also keeping negative remarks to yourself. Speaking poorly of others to coworkers should never be allowed, especially for those in a leadership role. Negative comments should only be shared in terms of constructive criticism, and always discussed with the person involved, not about them.

Implementing new technology is an option to strongly consider, as it has been extremely helpful in improving communication throughout the health care industry. Most patient data is digitally stored, making it easily accessible and legible for all team members. As with any other initiative in place, the use of technology needs to have set standards on how each individual is to be utilizing these tools—otherwise, they can sometimes do more harm than good.

From set procedures to information delivery methods, there are many ways to improve the communication within your facility. The professionals at General Medicine, The Post-Hospitalist Company specialize in providing a higher level of care, decreasing medical expenses, and enhancing both patient and nurse-physician communication. Let’s improve health care—together.

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Tom Prose

CEO at General Medicine, P.C.
As founder and CEO of General Medicine PC, the nation’s premier post-hospitalist care company,Tom Prose leads an exceptional team of internal medicine, geriatrics and healthcare administration specialists.