Minutes and seconds matter in healthcare. A patient who is going through a stroke will have less chance of functional independence and a higher chance of mortality when treatment has been delayed. The same is true for other medical conditions like heart attacks or sepsis. Time is always of the essence.
A faster response can lead to better outcomes for the quality and cost of care. The key to faster response time is an effective hospital and clinical communication system. When communication is real time and contextual, it reaches a gold standard. Poor communication can lead to negative patient outcomes, inefficient workflows, and clinician burnout. Many root cause analyses show that most of the errors that cause harm to patients are caused by errors of communication. While 80% or so physicians are using EHR systems, they are not designed to be communication tools.
EHRs are Not Built for Communication
EHRs are a treasure trove of information but they are rooted in the documentation and are not purpose-built for clinical workflow communication. The implementation of EHR was supposed to streamline the management of patient data. In fact, EHRs are mainly documentation or tracking systems which clinicians can use to pull out information but that information still has to be communicated via another tool to reach collaborating clinicians quickly. EHRs systems don’t exactly talk to each other very well and so, the exchange of patient information is often slow, incomplete and inefficient. While a good EHR can be the center of information, best in class organizations complement EHRs with leading edge communication tools to manage the minute-to-minute aspect of care delivery.
Two Ways to Improve Clinical Communication
The first step is to not rely on the EHR for communication. Using EHR alone for clinical communication is not a good idea. EHRs are essential for hospital operation and most include a communication feature but it is a mistake to rely on the EHR for all clinical communication. EHRs are not designed to provide the real-time contextual communication that clinicians need. Also, EHR systems exclude care team members outside of the hospital system – like a primary care physician in private practice or a family caregiver. Lastly, EHR communication features are often hard and awkward to access or use – which is why many clinicians try to devise workarounds. EHRs do not provide an easy communication experience nor do they provide privacy, security, and easy care collaboration across organizations.. This leads clinicians too often us ing WhatsApp or text messaging for quick communication. Unfortunately, while convenient, neither SMS text nor WhatsApp are HIPAA compliant and therefore pose risks of data privacy breach.