The Evolving Etiquette of Healthcare Communication

Guest post by Terry Edwards, president and CEO, PerfectServe.

Terry Edwards

Each day, healthcare professionals need to communicate with colleagues, patients and others outside of their organization. These communications often contain critical information about dosage changes, requests for a consultation and other healthcare information that can have life-or-death consequences for patients.

From email and texting to calls and overhead pages, there are a dozen different ways healthcare professionals can communicate with one another. Many of these modes of communication are fairly new, and clinicians are still continuing to teach each other the rules of the road and associated etiquette.

But as healthcare transforms to be more focused on value-based care, it’s becoming even more important to get this right. To coordinate patient care across the patient’s entire journey within the health system, clinicians need to know how to reach each other in the best way. Although communication is an essential part of the job for clinicians, a recent survey of 955 healthcare professionals1 conducted online by Harris Poll and commissioned by PerfectServe, shows that clinicians aren’t always communicating in the way that they’d prefer.

Lessons learned:

Find a way to speak in person when possible: For complex or in-depth conversations within their organizations, healthcare professionals say they prefer to speak face-to-face (41 percent for physicians; 37 percent for non-physicians). This preference is particularly strong with nurses, with 55 percent of nurses surveyed saying their preferred method is face-to-face communication for complex or in-depth conversations with physician care team members. Speaking in person allows clinicians to focus on the conversation. Many of the clinicians I work with say taking time to speak in person gives them the opportunity to build a stronger rapport with their colleagues, which can make it easier to foster care coordination.

Think before picking up the phone: Phone calls are by far the most frequent form of communication with care team members outside their organization. More than half (55 percent) of clinicians say they most frequently use a phone call to connect with physician care team members outside of their organizations, and 48 percent most frequently use the phone to communicate with non-physician care team members outside of their organization. But while everyone is picking up the phone, only about a quarter of clinicians actually prefer phone calls for that kind of information sharing (29 percent for brief communications with physician care team members outside of their organization; 25 percent for outside non-physician members). In my work with clinicians, many say that the ring of the phone is an interruption to their work, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) of clinicians reported that they often receive pages or calls that are of low priority, which disrupts patient care.

Text and messages are more than okay: Brief updates – like when a patient has been discharged or lab results are available – make up much of the communications that occur between clinicians. Clinicians responding to the survey were more likely to state a preference for communicating brief information or questions via text messages or communications within the EHR than phone calls when communicating with both physician and non-physician care team members outside of their organization. These kinds of communications are critical for effective care coordination, but don’t necessarily require a two-way conversation.

As technology evolves and healthcare professionals collaborate more frequently, these questions about how to communicate – and through what modality – will continue to percolate. The survey reveals that clinicians will need to think more frequently about how they’re choosing to communicate so that they get the quickest and more appropriate response from their colleagues. Along the same lines, health systems need to think seriously about how their clinicians are communicating to ensure the right resources are in place to support efficient patient care.

About the Survey
The PerfectServe survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of PerfectServe between February 12 and March 6, 2015. The research was conducted among 955 hospitalists, primary care physicians in offices, specialist physicians in hospitals, specialist physicians in offices, hospital administrators, office managers/practice administrators, nurses in hospitals, and case managers.

1“Healthcare professionals” includes hospitalists, primary care physicians in large offices, specialists in both hospital and office settings, nurses in hospitals, case managers, hospital administrators and office managers.

2“Clinicians” includes all physician categories surveyed, nurses and case managers, and excludes hospital administrators and office managers.

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