Healthcare News & Insights

Communication key to patient safety: How health IT can help

One benefit of health IT is that it can help improve the ways doctors communicate with patients, as well as with other clinicians and staff members. And according to one recent study, that’s a key way healthcare organizations can improve patient safety. 

Hospitals that are highly rated by patients for their communication also suffer fewer patient safety incidents, on average, according to a recent report from HealthGrades.

For the report, HealthGrades analyzed patient safety data from hospitals across the country between 2008 and 2010, as well as information patients reported about their experiences in those facilities. One of the main conclusions from the report: The better the hospital was rated for its communication practices, the safer patients were.

Among the hospitals studied:

  • Those ranked at the bottom 10% for physician communication experienced 15% more patient safety incidents than those in the top 10%, and
  • Those in the bottom 10% for nursing communication experienced 27% more patient safety incidents than those in the top 10%.

In addition to seeing improved patient safety, the hospitals that got high communication grades were also more likely to get a high grade for overall patient satisfaction.

What did it take for hospitals to be highly ranked for their communication? Some of the positive factors highlighted by patients included:

  • Medications were clearly explained before they were administered
  • Patients were comfortable asking doctors or nurses questions if something doesn’t make sense, and
  • The patient got clear instructions about what to do after they were discharged.

Health IT can help hospitals improve their communication efforts in several ways. For example, some EHR systems help doctors generate discharge summaries for patients including instructions and contact information in case patients have questions. EHRs can also make it easier for healthcare facilities to keep in touch with patients in between visits, such as by automatically reminding staff when it’s time to make a follow-up call.

Given the importance of communication in improving patient safety and satisfaction, hospitals and providers should look closely at how systems will affect communication when they’re making health IT investments.

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