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5 Tips to Improve Communication in Your Hospital Team

Career News August 17, 2013

Hospitals are a little bit different than other job settings. For instance, if you’re an accountant and pay a bill late, you might get hit with a late fee. If you’re an editor and you miss a deadline, your story might not run. If you’re a mailman and get caught in traffic, your route might get its mail late. That’s not to minimize the importance of the aforementioned professions, but hospitals are a little bit different – failure could mean the difference between life and death. And, according to a story in Hospital & Health Networks Magazine, nurses said that communication lapses are among the most common factors in preventable errors.

There are many reasons for communication failure. The top six factors include cultural barriers, socioeconomics, literacy, gender, behavior and personality. But, the key to communication lapses is that they’re 100% preventable. Now that’s not to say that everyone is perfect, but the number of errors can be significantly reduced in a hospital setting with a little bit of cooperation and increased efforts among team members and management. Here’s a look at five tips on how communication within your hospital team can be greatly improved:

SBAR

SBAR is a communication technique that can be deployed to streamline communication in hospital settings. Specifically, “SBAR” stands for “Situation Background Assessment Recommendation.” But, it’s not an app, or a software program or some other state-of-the-art technology that will immediately fix all of your communication problems, but more of a mindset to buy into and streamline effective communication among all the members of your team. It starts with uncovering the current situation of the patient, and then the clinical background and what can be done to resolve the problem.

Minimize Abbreviations

One of the biggest misunderstandings that often lead to mistakes is from misunderstanding abbreviations on medical sheets and such. For this reason, it’s important to not use any abbreviations unless you’re certain that your staff members know exactly what you’re talking about. Just think – the minimal amount of time that it will take to write out a full description is nothing compared to the jeopardy you potentially could put a patient in. The Joint Commission has formulated a list of common abbreviations that should never be used in a medical setting.

Interpreters

One of the reasons for errors in the hospital setting is language barriers that various patients have. Let’s face it – America is a melting pot, so not everyone is fluent in English. No, there’s native Spanish speakers, French speakers, etc. So for this reason, you might consider hiring or contracting with an interpreter. These professionals are somewhat like communications nurses – they bridge the language gap between patients and doctor, so that there’s nothing lost in translation and you can ensure all your patients are being treated to the best of your staff’s ability. Although you can use a friend or family member of the patient’s for these purposes, such people may be unfamiliar with medical terminology.

Stay Informed

If your staff encounters an error from a communication lapse, don’t just ignore it – do something to fix it. Just as how a football team meets for weekly film sessions to understand their mistakes and how they can improve for the next week’s game, consider holding a staff meeting each week where you review policy, go over any incidents and take questions from your staff members on hypothetical situations or any other concerns they may have. Doing this keeps everyone in the loop and also reinforces the biggest factors in running a successful operation.

Take Questions

Never rush a patient. You should always allow your patient to ask questions and reinforce important aspects of a patient’s visit, such as when to take medication and what to expect in terms of side effects or rehabilitation following an operation. It’s also a good idea to have a family member or friend of the patient sit in on important informational sessions, so that there’s one more person who can remember and relay information. It’s unreasonable to think that all communication errors in a hospital setting are you and your staff’s fault, but part of this may be the result of not briefing your patient properly.

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