9 Ways to Solve Hospital Communication Problems that Inhibit Patient Care
Proper communication amongst doctors, nurses and all care staff is vital to optimum patient care and satisfaction. Spok, a leader in critical communications in health care, compiled the nine biggest problems occurring in hospital communication today and ways to solve them.
1. Patient test results may be delayed getting to the right doctor.
The Joint Commission and other health care authorities have identified delays in the communication of critical test results as a major problem for patient safety. According to Spok, inefficient handling of results also contributes to higher costs of care, longer length of stay and increased risk of litigation.
Solution: Set up instant text notifications or have vital results be flagged in the EMR system.
2. Doctors may not be able to get in touch with another doctor to discuss patient treatment plans.
Reaching the right person on the right device at the right time is essential to patient care and safety. When personnel and schedule information is inaccurate or not readily accessible, critical messages can go to the wrong person or an office phone rather than a pager or cell phone.
Solution: Online staff directories or on-call scheduling calendars can solve this problem.
3. A code STEMI or other code call may take a long time and be disorganized.
In an emergency, staff rely on fast and accurate notifications of critical information. Confusion can sometimes emerge when information is choppy or sent in intervals.
Solution: An emergency notification solution will help transit information quickly and reliably.
4. HIPAA violations may occur if patient details are transferred without encryption.
As hospitals continue to search for methods to transfer patient information quickly, safety always needs to be at the forefront of requirements. Sensitive information being sent unencrypted could result in a HIPAA lawsuit.
Solution: Secure texting apps are now available that ensure devices don’t spread unprotected patient information.
5. Not having a paging system for backup may make an emergency situation even more complicated.
Paging has been integral to hospital workflows and critical response processes for decades and its value remains high.
Solution: Paging is highly reliable and cost effective. Lay the groundwork that will give critical communications the best chance of getting through.
6. Incoming calls may get misdirected when being processed.
Processing calls need to be simple or else calls can get sent to wrong department leading to both staff and patient frustration.
Solution: Set up an operating system with staff and launch code calls that can process routine requests including directory assistance, transfers and paging.
7. Patients may lose necessary sleep for recovery because of loud activity noise.
Noise on patient floors can be distracting and can affect the recovery process for patients.
Solution: Fast-tracking patient monitoring alarms and nurse call requests can greatly diminish the amount of noise on a hospital floor as they can go straight to an on-duty staff member’s pager, cell phone or other device.
8. Nursing staff might walk an unnecessarily long distance during the course of their shift.
Some estimates put the distance a nurse walks during the course of his or her shift at two miles, which can lead to fatigue while on the job.
Solution: A nurse call system can deliver calls to nurses directly without having them to stop by the nursing station first. A callback extension for the patient can also allow the nurse to speak with the patient directly to determine his or her need without having to visit the patient to do so.
9. Contacting a doctor when he is not on-call can inhibit his personal time.
When the proper balance between allowing others to access a physician and protecting his or her personal time isn’t found, this can result in a physician’s frustration and patient care can suffer.
Solution: Enable staff to call one local number and reach the right on-duty clinician according to a physician’s established preferences.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.