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Poor communications costing hospitals millions, vendor report says

Poor communication is costing the major healthcare organizations about $12 million annually nationwide, according to Spok.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

More hospitals are banking that improved communications will reduce waste and cut down on costs, according to a recent study by Spok.

The Virginia-based company that specializes in streamlining communications in a number of different fields, including healthcare, poor communication is costing the major healthcare organizations about $12 million annually nationwide, or $4 million annually for a 500-bed hospital.

Spok estimates that roughly a quarter of each hospital shift is dedicated to communications, including collaborating with other physicians, which means reducing the time spent on this activity can give doctors more time to tend to their patients.

Equipping hospital staff with better communication tools can help achieve this end, according to Spok's report. This includes the ability to send and receive information with on-duty clinicians -- prompting faster interactions and reducing the amount of phone tag involved.

[Also: Better outcomes, lower costs, with value-based models, Humana says]

"Having the same information shared among the web directory, on-call scheduling, and operator console solutions has been seamless … and communications are more efficient," said Mac Stanford, director of biomedical/communication services at North Mississippi Medical Center.

The length of a patient's stay is another area in which time is critical. Inability to convey the right information to the right people can lead to delays and result in longer hospital stays. A study by Agarwal suggests that over half of wasted cost is related to length of stay. This translates into  almost $2.5 million per year for a 50-bed hospital.

Again, the prescription is speeding up communications. This is key to streamlining the discharge process, but it's also an essential component in reporting test results, which is often a manual affair, involving phone calls and both paper and electronic documentation.

Poor communications can also be detrimental to the patient, leading to longer stays or complications.

Speeding the transfer of test results from the lab to the ordering provider is one way to accomplish this.

[Also: Mayo Clinic exec: Good billing lifts patient experience as cost and care merge]

Jose Bennett, PACS administrator at Tuomey Healthcare, said that system saw a marked improvement when such measures were taken.

"During the three months immediately following implementation, we saw an 11 percent improvement in patient discharge times," he said.

Time, however, isn't the only consideration. Patient care is another factor that can be improved. In particular, the study cites "alarm fatigue," which happens when nurses on a hospital floor become desensitized to the bevy of alarms and are sometimes slow to tend to a patient's needs. One way around this is to integrate monitoring systems with staff Wi-Fi phones or other mobile devices to speed up response times.

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Speedier emergency notifications can improve outcomes, as well. If a life-threatening emergency is detected by a test result or EMT, a quick response is vital in the minutes and seconds that follow: no phone trees, no sending individual pages to each member of a response team.

Lastly, quick communication can naturally improve a patient's satisfaction which can affect a hospital's bottom line as quality is more linked to reimbursement in the realm of value-based payment.

"Indirectly, communications shape a patient's experience, which contributes to a facility's perceived brand in the community," the study states. "If patients have a choice where to go for care, that brand can bring more patients to a hospital, or send them to the competition."

Twitter: @JELagasse

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