The importance of communication in healthcare

Sep 14, 2020

Blog Post written by Steve Vlok, Co-founder & CEO Celo

More than 25% of hospital read missions could be avoided with better communication among healthcare teams and between providers and patients (Becker’s Hospital Review). When a patient visits a hospital or clinic, there are a number of people ranging from nursing staff, administrative staff and doctors who look after them. Even a patient’s family and friends are involved in their care. With so many people involved in someone’s care, communication becomes a critical component in delivering effective, efficient and safe care.

Busy nature of a hospital 

A hospital is a busy place. In the life of a surgical registrar at a New Zealand hospital,ward round typically starts at 7 am. Here the first face to face communication of the day occurs, with a chat to the nursing staff to see how the patients were overnight. Review of vitals before rounding with the team to see the patients, spending time with each patient and assessing their progress. End of ward round results in a talk to the nurse, discussing care plans, dressings etc. Consultants are then updated (via text or call depending on severity),including any photos, charts or other information for context. The consultant replies to the registrar with a preferred treatment plan (which may be delegated to the house surgeon for action). Throughout the day, referrals arrive from around the country for the regional service. These typically involve a phone call, and a photo shared for more information (via various methods). House surgeons typically keep in contact with the registrars via text to update on any actions. For a nurse to get hold of a house surgeon, they use a pager. At the end of the day, the house surgeon updates the registrar via text with a summary of the patient's progress over the day and to update on any investigation results.

Commonly provided tools…a pager, fax machines? 

When a junior doctor starts their first job in New Zealand, they are introduced to a pager. This is the provided and expected communication tool between the nursing staff and the typical New Zealand house surgeon. This archaic artefact is raved about from various powers at be within a hospital environment because of its apparent robustness in a critical event, where the network may be down for internet or cell coverage. Along with pagers, the fax machine has a persistent fan base within hospitals, and the health sector can be acknowledged for the survival of an otherwise dated and redundant technology.

What do we use in our ‘normal’ lives?

If you ask any smartphone owner in New Zealand what ‘apps’ they use on a daily basis, you will hear familiar names such as Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and WhatsApp. Suffice to say, these applications are such an integral part of people’s day today, that by the very nature of their ease of use and value of connectivity,they have crept their way into the workplace.

The value of smartphones in health

In the healthcare sector, there are mobile devices everywhere which are often being used at the point of care. In particular, clinicians at hospitals and healthcare organisations are using consumer text-messaging and instant-messaging apps (which they use in their personal lives) to communicate and discuss patient details due to the convenience of these services

This can violate health privacy standards, including HIPAA (USA), GDPR (EU & UK),HISO Regulations (NZ), or OAIC (AUS) regulations. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal: “The ownership and clinical use of smartphones by doctors and nurses in the UK”, found that 98.9% of clinicians own a smartphone and while almost all clinicians have access to a smartphone, a majority were wrongfully using consumer applications readily available to non-healthcare professionals.

The NHS England states that “WhatsApp should not be used for clinical communications”.There are numerous benefits to using mobile communication apps within a healthcare organisation. However, there needs to be an emphasis on the use of healthcare centred messaging apps, the protection of patient data and adherence to strict organisational policies to stay compliant with the law.

Healthcare is lagging behind other industries with privacy legislation

There is an increased urgency amongst clinicians across the world to be provided with compliant tools for communication. This is due to the rapid and ever-increasing legislative requirements worldwide. Other industries such as law and engineering are being made aware of the serious consequences of privacy breaches. It is time for healthcare to step up and start to look after patient privacy properly.

Overview of penalities across the world:


• New Zealand:
Privacy Act 1993, Health Information Privacy Code 1994
$10,000 to $50,000 +fines

• Australia:
OAIC Privacy Act, Notifiable data breach
AU$ 420,000 fine for individuals
AU$ 2.1 million fine for corporations

• UK/Europe:
Falls under GDPR.
€20 million or 4% of annual worldwide turnover (whichever is higher) for any breach of GDPR.

Clinicians must be offered a connected and compliant alternative

Clinicians should have the convenience of texting without putting private patient information at risk, and healthcare organisations and authorities can support them in doing so, by providing an easy to use, and safe alternative to consumer tools. This will ensure clinicians won’t turn to the App Store for less-than-ideal solutions while enabling effective, efficient and safe communication within their care teams.

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