3 Strategies to Improve Emergency Department Communication

Group of Nurses and Doctors Donovan Partners

A single breakdown in communication within your emergency department can mean dire outcomes for patients. Consistent breakdowns may even lead to a significant decrease in staff satisfaction, patient satisfaction and overall quality of care.

The way in which information is relayed between staff, patients and caregivers is one of the most important aspects of the treatment process — one that should always be scrutinized and improved upon. By placing an emphasis on effective communication, EDs can expect better and safer quality of care, more satisfied staff, and increased patient satisfaction scores.

Here are three strategies to help improve communication within your ED.

1. Huddle Up

Many EDs experience communication breakdowns during shift changes. Short team meetings before the start of a shift are a great way to promote teamwork and make sure everyone coming on is on the same page at the start of the shift. And if time and circumstances allow, organize another less formal “spot” meeting mid-shift to tackle any foreseeable concerns.

A 2009 Stanford study found short, pre-shift staff huddles were instrumental in fostering teamwork and communication within the ED. Researchers concluded that the positive perception of and “compliance with collaborative decision making” increased after implementing huddles, and, in all likelihood, would lead to higher levels of staff satisfaction and better patient outcomes.

2. Know When Not to Embrace Technology

The ways in which we communicate with one another is ever-changing. New technologies emerge only to be replaced by something different soon after. It’s often tempting to become an early adopter of tech, believing it holds the solution to your problem.

However, the ED isn’t usually the best setting to try untested, new technologies — there’s too much at stake. Here’s a great example:

In 2012, a panel of healthcare providers came together at George Washington University to discuss the role of technology in the ED, highlighting several instances where the implementation of new technology provided no benefit to the provider or the patient. One provider noted how using computers instead of white boards led to a breakdown in communication among staff.  

Swapping a white board for a computer, in some cases, meant losing valuable communication tools used among ED nurses and technicians that seemed negligible to the outsiders who transitioned the data.

The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” definitely applies here. Maybe that’s why we’re one of the only professions left using pagers.

3. Identify the Barriers to Effective Communication

When do communication breakdowns occur? And where along the treatment process do they occur? In order to be able to improve communication within the ED, identifying the problem areas is the first step you need to take. Only by identifying the barriers to effective communication will you be able to implement a targeted plan to overcome those obstacles.

Also, it’s important to remember that effective communication strategies should be employed hospital-wide. Some of the most effective communication strategies are born out of EDs. That’s because stress and burnout can flourish in the ED and poor communication fuels it. Good communication is a must to keep those at bay and be able to operate effectively. Communications techniques that do well in the ED have been battle-tested.

If you can employ effective communications strategies within your ED, you can serve as a model for other departments, improving communication throughout the hospital, and maybe even system-wide.

Bottom line: when you are aware of the obstacles present within your ED that are inhibiting effective communication, you’ll be able to develop a course of action for your overall communication strategy that will benefit your ED and hospital patients, staff and budget.

If you could use a hand to pinpoint the barriers to effective communication within your ED, or need assistance implementing strategies to improve communication, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Contact Donovan & Partners today atcmd@constancedonovan.com or 651-260-9918. I'd be happy to do a personalized assessment of your ED and provide actionable solutions. For more information on the services we offer, visit our website.

Heather Tilson, RN, BSN & Angela Vega, RN, MSN, CNL, CRNI & Garrett K. Chan, APRN, PhD, FPCN, FAEN: “Improving Teamwork and Communication in the Emergency Department.”

George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences: “Technology in the Emergency Department.”