Learning Effective Communication Strategies in Health IT

Being a patient in the hospital can be an intimidating experience for anyone. Facing a serious health issue, a patient must partner with medical professionals to make decisions that literally can be a matter of life and death. That’s why it is so important for healthcare professionals to develop genuine bedside communication skills that are firm and well-explained, yet compassionate and understanding.

Medical professionals have much more expertise than the typical patient. They think about healthcare issues in a different mindset and they use diverse terminology. And if hospital professionals are not communicating well among themselves, the patient may receive contradictory information which could lead to poor healthcare decisions. A team approach to communicating is critical for effective care.

Add to that the variety of medical personnel with whom a patient interacts – doctors, nurses, technicians and others – and the hospital experience can quickly become overwhelming.

Clear communication among healthcare professionals, and between professionals and the patient, is essential. This is why a team approach to communicating is critical for effective care.

Increasingly, healthcare facilities are responding to research that shows the need for a team approach to healthcare and overall communication. Professionals who work in health IT are considered a critical part of that team.

One of the first steps is organizational commitment to address the situation. The commitment needs to come from the top and from the bottom. This is followed by an organization-wide assessment of behaviors to identify potential opportunities for improvement.

An increasingly prevalent way to improve organizational communication is through formal and informal meetings and get-togethers. Creating opportunities for different groups to converse has been shown to be a highly effective strategy for enhancing collaboration and communication.

The organization must also develop and implement standard behavior policies and procedures that apply to all staff, across disciplines. Structured communication is an essential element of the policies that need to be put into place.

Structured communication should typically include:

  • A change from placing blame to designing more effective processes and procedures, i.e., applying a systems approach
  • Assurance of full immunity while implementing a nonpunitive approach
  • Institutionalization of a permanent program for risk identification, analysis and dissemination of the lessons learned throughout the professional community

Once new policies and procedures are in place, management must clearly communicate to employees what the new policies are, how they should be accomplished and what the consequences will be if they are not followed.

IT professionals can also adjust their behaviors in ways that can make a big difference to overall organizational communication and unity.

Some tips from experts:

  1. Listen: If someone comes to you with a question that you have answered many times before, it can be frustrating. Remember, though, that this is the first time that particular person has asked it. Let the person finish their question, even if you know what the question is before he or she is finished.
  2. Pause: No matter what the question is, the person asking will appreciate knowing that it is a thought-provoking question and that it might take you a moment to come up with a great answer. Then explain clearly. This helps build trust and interpersonal bonds that are essential to great team communication.
    If it does take more time than you have at the moment to figure out a solution, don’t say, “I don’t have time right now.” Acknowledge that’s it’s a great question that deserves attention and set up a time when you can meet and discuss it further to come up with a solution.
  3. Ask for help: We all have to delegate tasks. If you ask your subordinates and co-workers for help, rather than ordering them to perform tasks, it makes them feel valued and helps create that team framework that is so essential.
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