One of the biggest challenges hospitals face is inefficiency. This can come in many forms, from inefficient work practices to travel routes that are not optimized. There is another form of inefficiency that can cripple hospital staff management. This is communication inefficiency. When staff cannot coordinate within departments and subgroups, they take more time and spend more effort for the same result.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Healthcare Management quantified this inefficiency. Argwal, et al., found that hospitals are losing more than $12 billion every year due to inefficient and inadequate communication between care providers. In turn, this is responsible for 53% of the annual spending at a healthcare facility. To break this down, that means that a hospital with 500 beds would be throwing out the door over $4 million. And then consider turnover cost due to frustration with communication inefficiency, which can be upwards of 5% of the annual budget.
Employees need to be fully informed and aware at all times. This starts with hiring and continues during the onboarding process. If a hospital staff member doesn’t get the information she needs at the time that is most prudent for it, that is communication inefficiency.
An easy way to keep staff informed is with hospital digital signage. This can be as simple as posting a message that all staff needs to see and acknowledge. An announcement over the intercom loudspeaker can be ignored or misheard, but a message on healthcare digital signage is easier to comprehend. Since the digital signs are in a high traffic area, all staff will see it. And since it’s a static message, not a verbal message that might be broadcast at an inopportune time, that takes away the questions of whether all staff heard it properly.
Another study in the British Medical Journal found that communication inefficiencies are quite high when only using interruptive methods. In fact, Coiera and Tombs found that hospital staff ignored pages or voice calls over 25% of the time. This indicates that any verbal messages that are not immediately urgent could be completely ignored. On the other hand, a message conveyed on hospital digital signage will be seen multiple times each day. Even if the message is initially ignored, it can be understood and acknowledged the next time it is seen.
Staff awareness is an area in which hospital digital signage can outshine any other communication method. Knowledge of current service statistics is not necessarily a completely urgent matter, but is quite important and can help increase staff performance.
As any healthcare administrator is aware, the more ownership that hospital staff has over their service metrics, the better the metrics will be. And the easiest way to increase staff awareness of their performance is to consistently display the numbers. Hospital digital signage can provide a constant display of metrics, and show changes since the last measurement timeframe. Staff can review statistics and identify areas of improvement.
It is significant to understand the difference between urgent messages with importance and important messages without urgency. Whereas hospital staff needs to be told immediately if an emergency situation arises, the urgency is not as high when quarterly service metrics are released. The service statistics carry their own weight, and the staff needs to be aware of them, but not at the same speed as a quarantine situation, for example.
Even so, in an emergency situation, messages broadcast over an intercom system can also be posted on healthcare digital signage. If the message was unclear at first, then the hospital digital signs can reflect it again, and the staff does not have to call in for clarification or wait for the repeat broadcast. Any information about upcoming drills or potential warnings can be contained on hospital digital signage, without interrupting current work procedures.
As in the BMJ study, this can carry the expectation that staff will have a lower tendency to ignore the message. Visual communication is often much preferred over vocal communication, as it is immediate, simple, and flexible. If the message changes, then the hospital digital signs automatically updates. A simple verbal broadcast to reinforce the change can be made, but the time it takes to listen and comprehend is usually much longer than the time the staff will take to read and understand graphics on a digital sign.
As staff is continually bombarded by various forms of communication, it can be easy to ignore important messages.
Even more so, it is also quite tempting to take the “less is more” approach when communicating with other staff. While having concise communication is good, it can promote a problem bigger than inefficient communication. Staff may limit their explanations to the point that others may not get all the information they need.
That can be a big issue when transferring patient care from a hospital to primary care facility. Communication between hospital staff and primary care staff occurred no more than 20% of the time, according to a 2007 review in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. Kripalani, et al., found that direct communication occurred as low as 3% of the time.Discharge summaries were completely missing up to 88% of the time, and even after 4 weeks were still absent in 24% of cases.
While healthcare digital signage cannot directly help with discharge communication, it can relieve some of the burdens of communication in other areas. When staff is not overloaded with communication, that can give them a more positive outlook on communication methods. And thus, discharge summaries will more often contain all of the pertinent information, which requires fewer information requests from primary care providers, which cycles back to a reduction in communication overload.
It can seem like a small change to make, but it’s a self-fulfilling cycle. Similar to a snowball creating an avalanche, over time communication can become more efficient in all arenas of the healthcare network, just by alleviating the strain on one section.
Technology can often create just as many burdens as it attempts to mitigate. Think about the smartphone. It gives hospital staff the opportunity to be constantly connected to email and information on the internet. But at the same time, it puts a strain on the staff since they are “constantly connected”. Staff can no longer leave the hospital and expect that an emergency phone call or page is the only interruption they’ll receive until the next shift. Emails can be ignored, but eventually, the sender will expect a response. Communication from hospital employees is at a critical point across the entire industry.
The answer is not to increase technology in expectation of rising communication issues. It is to determine the most efficient method of communication for all staff. Hospital digital signage will allow staff to remain in control over their own awareness of issues and can augment any emergency broadcasts. It effectively mitigates the communication overload as it is faster and simpler than other methods of communication.