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The Importance of Good Communication Between Medical Professionals

In the modern healthcare sector services and treatment are increasingly delivered by teams of professionals working across specialties and departments. This means that effective communication is more important than ever for excellent patient care.

A recent report by Elaine Howley in the health section of US News describes a typical contemporary scenario: “ … a patient having spinal surgery, for example, will likely be treated by not only the surgeon, but also an anesthetist, a surgical nurse, a physical therapist, a floor nurse, nursing aides and many other individuals assigned to look after different aspects of the patient’s health. Over the course of a few days in the hospital, you might encounter more than two or three dozen care providers.”

Around this single spinal surgery patient swirls a network of hundreds of individual interpersonal communications. So much could go awry, even if the surgery itself goes smoothly. Howley’s analysis goes on to suggest that the problem is a long-standing one. “The modern, interdisciplinary approach to health care sometimes highlights age-old issues in human communication, and societal norms play a big role in how certain individuals interact with other people in their environment.”

Contributing factors to miscommunication can range from differences in gender and culture to entrenched hierarchies of authority to concerns around privacy and patient rights. Especially when considering the traditional relationship between nurses (historically female and subservient) and doctors (historically male and authoritative) speaking up can be fraught. Protocols can vary greatly from facility to facility and even between different departments within a single institution.

Whatever the root cause, a culture of incomplete or fragmented information sharing persists in medicine – in spite of the immense strides that have been made in other sectors. For the good of patient outcomes, but also for reasons of professionalism and seamlessly efficient care, this must change.

Most doctors and nurses would agree that patient information should be shared fully and reliably between all members of the healthcare team. Degrees of urgency should be clearly communicated and there should be no gaps that might lead to mishaps or neglect. For that to happen attention needs to be paid to old-fashioned factors such as listening skills, mutual respect, and a collective commitment to being an effective team member. As the medical workplace changes team building is becoming a focus for management, and better communication is a key aspect of this.

But improving inter-personal communication in face-to-face handoffs and other interactions is only part of the solution. Issues around patient privacy and electronic communication require consideration and standardization (perhaps even at a legislative level) in order to allow healthcare professionals the opportunity take full advantage of new developments in communication support devices and applications.

The reliance on mobile devices and apps in the communication space grows daily. In the absence of sector standards, too many healthcare professionals are still relying on obsolete technologies such as faxes and pagers, and unsecured platforms such as WhatsApp and Messenger to share vital information with colleagues. This even though more sophisticated solutions for team communication (with end-to-end encryption known as E2EE) are available for nurses and doctors who desire the ease and speed of mobile messaging while still respecting patient privacy.

New products such as the PageMe app feature several layers of security, including the fully encrypted transmission of messages to a secure server, password protection, and a self-destruct feature that erases messages from the device and the server after several hours. Photos or videos cannot be saved to the phone’s camera roll via the app and the product does not permit screenshots. And messages can only be exchanged between those within the closed network.

Innovations such as PageMe have great potential to help elevate the quality of communication between healthcare professionals around patient care. And that’s good news for a sector that often lags behind when it comes to improving some operational protocols.