A few years ago I surveyed around 500 hospital employees in all job categories and departments and asked what the biggest challenge to their workday was. Three of the top six responses contained “communication”. So today when I was reading an AHA report on patient flow I was not at all surprised to see communication winning the top prize as the most pervasive and the hardest problem to fix – taking 60% of the votes. It outpaced the second runner up – visibility to data – which came in with only 30% of the votes.
“There is strong agreement that communications is the most difficult obstacle to overcome”
-AHA Report of the 2012 Patient Flow Challenges
Communication concerns were seen to impact discharge, inefficient patient handoffs and insufficient post-discharge contact with patients. This is consistent with another study done by the University of Maryland on the impact of inefficient and poor communication, finding that U.S. hospitals conservatively waste over $12 billion annually as a result of communication inefficiency among care providers. Interestingly, the study linked communication issues with increases in the length of hospital stays which has a direct impact on profitability – accounting for nearly 53 percent of that $12 billion annual economic burden.
Another study by Thompson Reuters demonstrated an indirect relationship between average length of stay (ALOS) and operating income – the shorter the ALOS, the better the operating income.
To bring this to life, a 500-bed hospital loses over $4 million annually as a result of their communication inefficiencies.
Of course, none of this is good. Hospitals certainly can’t afford to waste $4 million dollars every year. Dr. Daniel Sands, one of the Maryland study authors noted that poor communications has a financial impact on a wide range of factors including patient safety and patient/staff satisfaction as well.
But the impact of poor communication goes way beyond just finances. The Joint Commissions landmark study on the root causes of sentinel events found poor communication to have been implicated as the origin of more than 68 percent of sentinel event occurrences from 2009 through 2011.
“Communication inefficiency has a significant impact on clinical staff efficiency—which is particularly important in an era of eroding hospital operating margins and staff shortages—and yet few hospitals are thinking about these issues. Healthcare providers must focus on these challenges, implement technologies processes and technologies that address them, and assess the impact of their interventions.”
-Daniel Z Sands, MD, MPH
Cisco Chief Medical Informatics Officer
Director, Healthcare Business Transformation
Isn’t it time to stop thinking of communication as just a dial tone?
 AHA Solutions and Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence (HPOE). “Results and Report of the 2012 Patient Flow Challenges Assessment: Hospitals Consider Patient Flow Essential to Care and Competitiveness.” 2012
 Thomson Reuters ACTION O-I Comparative Database
, Office of Quality Monitoring. “Sentinel Event.” The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 June 2012. <http://www.jointcommission.org/sentinal_event.aspx>