How to improve communication in healthcare with technology?

Today, technology plays a vital role in both our personal and work lives. Technology is gradually becoming the foundation of every industry’s core functioning, including healthcare. With the emergence of new technologies in the healthcare industry, more and more lives are being saved. Technology is undoubtedly revolutionizing healthcare. But, is it covering every aspect of this industry?

Even though technology’s assistance benefits doctors and patients in many ways, there are still many significant gaps in the healthcare industry, leading to costly and fatal results. One such considerable gap is in healthcare communication.

In 2019, the World Health Organization stated that the risk of preventable patient deaths is estimated to be 1 in 300.

Poor communication can be a contributing element to poor quality healthcare that leads to preventable patient deaths. According to a study conducted in the late 1990s, poor communication was responsible for 44000 – 98000 patients deaths per year in American hospitals.

Technology can be an absolute solution to the problem of poor communication in healthcare. Various technologies can be implemented with current healthcare practices to achieve effective communication in this industry.

This article will help you understand how technology can improve communication in healthcare sector. But before that, it is crucial to understand the ramifications of poor communication in healthcare and why good communication is important.

We shall answer the following questions in this article:

  1. What are the effects of poor communication in healthcare?
  2. Why is effective communication important in healthcare?
  3. How can technology improve communication in healthcare?

Let’s start by understanding the effects of poor communication in healthcare.

What are the effects of poor communication in healthcare?

Poor communication has adverse effects in all industries. However, unlike other sectors, ineffective communication in healthcare can lead to many patient deaths. 

Whether it is poor communication among healthcare professionals or between patients and doctors, the effects are dreadful.

The effects of poor communication in healthcare are divided into two categories:

  • Effects of poor communication among healthcare professionals are:
    • Increased casualties
    • Poor organization
    • Low productivity
    • Poor patient care
  • Effects of poor communication between healthcare professionals and patients are:
    • Poor patient experience
    • Irregular follow-ups
    • Wrong diagnoses and prescriptions
    • Incorrect recommendations

Effects of poor communication among healthcare professionals

  1. Increased Casualties

    Poor communication in healthcare has proven to be a major contributor to increased preventable casualties. Miscommunication among nurses or nurses and doctors about specific patient conditions can lead to the patient’s death.

    For example, suppose a nurse forgets to tell the doctor about a patient’s allergic reaction to the medicine during her shift. When the doctor arrives later, he may prescribe the same medication to the patient, which may lead to harsh consequences.

  2. Poor Organization

    When there isn’t regular communication between the healthcare staff, the patient’s records won’t be stored in an organized manner.

    In a healthcare center, medical professionals check up on a patient according to their shifts. Each professional may have a new update, which they pen down on a paper and later forget about, due to a busy schedule. This practice leads to a lot of scattered information instead of storing it in an organized manner. 

  3. Low Productivity

    Poor communication among healthcare professionals will lead to low productivity as:

    1. the information of already performed tests may not be shared. 
    2. reports may not be circulated. 
    3. miscommunication may lead to repetitive tasks.
  4. Poor Patient Care

    All errors that occur in the healthcare system ultimately lead to poor patient care. It is essential for healthcare institutes to ensure good quality care for patients. Healthcare institutes cannot provide good quality patient care as long as they don’t have an efficient communication system. Healthcare professionals need to communicate effectively to decide what’s best for the patient.

Effects of poor communication between healthcare professionals and patients

  1. Poor Patient Experience

    Poor patient experiences are prevalent where the communication between healthcare professionals and patients isn’t proper. Good patient experiences require a system where patients have the freedom to express their concerns and effectively communicate all medical issues, along with receiving top-quality healthcare services. 

  2. Irregular Follow-Ups

    Healthcare professionals have hectic schedules. Hence, they unintentionally forget about maintaining regular follow-ups with their patients.  Irregular follow-ups may lead to unnecessary delays in treatment.

  3. Wrong Diagnoses and Prescriptions

    If the patient and the doctor’s communication isn’t smooth, the doctor may not be fully aware of their medical history. Without an accurate record of the patient’s conditions and problems, the doctor may perform the wrong diagnoses and prescribe the inappropriate medications, which can have profound implications.

  4. Incorrect Recommendations

    Patients’ medical records are vital and need to be securely shared among all healthcare team members. It is crucial to record the latest data correctly to provide exemplary patient care. Inconsistent data sharing can lead to unsuitable recommendations of treatments or medications for the patient, which may have dire implications.

Why is effective communication important in the healthcare sector?

It is essential to have a smooth, systematic and precise way of communication between the doctor and the patients, and among the healthcare professionals as well. 

Effective communication among healthcare professionals is important because of the following reasons:

  1. Patient safety
  2. Team satisfaction and efficiency
  3. Reduced casualties
  4. Good quality patient care
  5. Organized medical records management

Effective communication between healthcare professionals and patients is important because of the following reasons:

  1. Patient satisfaction
  2. Transparency
  3. Patient loyalty
  4. Regular follow-ups
  5. Informed recommendations

Importance of Effective Communication Among Healthcare Professionals

  • Patient Safety
    Patient safety is the topmost concern of a healthcare team. In a healthcare center, patient safety is entirely in the hands of healthcare professionals. Effective communication helps the healthcare team to ensure that the patient is completely safe, medications are being given correctly, and good quality care is provided.
  • Team Satisfaction and Efficiency
    Effective communication among the members of the healthcare team will lead to:
    • Better team relationships
    • Less job turnover
    • Greater work satisfaction
    • Better organization

    All of these factors enhance team satisfaction and efficiency.

  • Reduced Casualties
    As discussed earlier in this article, the rate of preventable casualties due to poor communication skills is very high in the healthcare sector. By improving the communication among healthcare employees, the rate of avoidable deaths can be reduced, more lives can be saved and patient safety can increase.
  • Good Quality Patient Care
    Good quality patient care is a goal that many healthcare institutes fail to achieve. One reason for the inability to provide good quality patient care is a lack of effective communication. The patients should not feel that there are any gaps or holes in their care process. Hence, it is essential for the healthcare team to effectively communicate about all the patient’s issues to achieve the aim of providing good quality patient care.
  • Organized Medical Record Management
    Managing medical records of patients in an organized manner is a task with which most healthcare professionals struggle. There are many stakeholders involved in the healthcare process of a patient. Hence, it is a very tedious yet crucial task to keep the records updated and organized. When there is a lack of effective communication, medical records are not updated regularly or stored securely. Every patient’s medical information is very critical. Hence, it is essential to establish effective communication methods in healthcare teams to facilitate the records’ organized management.

Importance of Effective Communication between Healthcare Professionals and Patients

  1. Patient Satisfaction
    Patient Satisfaction is achieved when everything in the healthcare process is carried out efficiently and up to the patient’s expectations. Patients expect that their healthcare team would:
    • be attentive to problems
    • conduct regular follow-ups
    • provide updated reports on their progress
    • provide proper explanations for every step of the healthcare process
    • regularly update prescriptions
    • securely manage medical records
    • offer good quality care

    It is only possible if the healthcare team regularly communicates with the patient and focuses on their expectations and needs.

  2. Transparency

    People invest a lot of money in the healthcare industry to receive the best quality healthcare services. Hence, they expect that the complete process should be transparent. If a patient knows everything from the pricing structure to the reasons behind their medications, they feel included and satisfied. It generates patient loyalty and a good brand image.

    Transparency can be maintained if healthcare professionals regularly interact with their patients to update them about all the procedures, diagnoses and changes in their treatment routines.

  3. Regular Follow-Ups

    Regular follow-ups are important because:

    • They help to determine if the patient is following the recommended treatment properly.
    • They help to ensure if the patient is taking the prescriptions regularly.
    • They help to find out if the patient is having any adverse reactions to a medication.
    • They help to figure out if a change in the prescription or treatment is required.
  4. Informed Recommendations 

    When the medical team is entirely up to date with the patient’s medical history and the latest medical developments, they can offer better treatment and prescription recommendations. However, staying up-to-date with the patient’s medical condition is only possible when the team regularly communicates with the patient and effectively listen to the patient’s inputs.

How can technology improve communication in the healthcare sector?

Technologies are entering and reforming the healthcare sector continuously. Technologies that are easy to learn, handy and customizable can immensely improve communication in healthcare.

Five technologies that can ensure effective communication in healthcare sector are:

  1. Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
  2. Telemedicine
  3. Blockchain Technology
  4. E-Prescriptions
  5. Remote Patient Monitoring

Electronic Medical Records (EHRs)

Electronic Health Records are digitized records of patients that easily and quickly make their medical data available to the authorized people. Today, electronic health records are a significant part of the healthcare industry. They include the following details about the patient:

  1. Medical history
  2. Diagnoses
  3. Medications
  4. Treatment plans
  5. Immunization dates
  6. Allergies
  7. Radiology images
  8. Test results

What are the key features of Electronic Health Records? 

Three key features of electronic health records are:

  1. They can be updated and managed only by authorized providers.
  2. They are built in a digital format.
  3. They enable the sharing of information across different healthcare organizations.

How do Electronic Health Records improve communication in the healthcare sector? 

Let us understand this with the help of an example.

Suppose there is a diabetic patient named Sasha. The doctor asks her to get blood sugar level tests done. Once the tests are done, the reports are uploaded to a cloud database which only Sasha can access. Sasha shares her reports by giving the doctor an access ID or QR code which he uses to gain access to the records. 

As Sasha is the only person who has complete control over her records, she can even set a time limit on the access permissions which may last for a few hours or days, as per her consent. The doctor can access the records only during the permitted time frame. It assures Sasha that all her medical data is secure and regular updates are being made by authorized personnel only. 

If Sasha wishes to switch to a different doctor in the future, she doesn’t have to go through the tedious task of getting all her medical records from the previous doctor. She has them ready and updated, can conveniently share them with any doctor and can also revoke access of the reports from her previous doctor. 

Electronic health records not only improve the communication between Sasha and her doctor; they also make it easy for her to share reports with any specialist she wants.

Five benefits of electronic health records which help to improve communication in healthcare are:

  • They provide correct and updated information about patients in one place.
  • They enable instant access to a patient’s health records.
  • They allow patients to share information with different healthcare professionals securely.
  • They diminish costs by reducing paperwork.
  • They enhance the security and privacy of the patient’s healthcare data.

Telehealth

Telehealth refers to providing medical or healthcare services by using telecommunication technologies. It allows doctors to consult, diagnose, educate, advise and treat patients through telecommunication devices like video calls, phone calls and chats.

Telehealth allows patients to consult with doctors and get treatments from their homes without waiting for long hours for appointments. 

Telehealth is an emerging technology. Although it has been around for a long time, healthcare institutions have only recently begun to adopt it.

How does Telehealth improve communication in healthcare? 

Healthcare professionals and institutes adopt the telehealth approach by getting web or mobile applications built for themselves. All telehealth applications comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which sets standards for patient data protection.

There are three stakeholders in a telehealth application:

  • Doctors
  • Patients
  • Admin

When healthcare professionals get a healthcare web or mobile app for their healthcare institute, they consider the application being used by these three stakeholders.

The application consists of different dashboards for each user.

For the doctor, the dashboard includes the following features:

  • Doctor’s Profile
  • Appointment Schedule Management
  • View EMRs/EHRs
  • Provide Digital Prescriptions
  • Calls
  • Messages
  • View Patient’s Medical History
  • Video Session Recording
  • Notifications

For the patient, the dashboard includes the following features:

  • Profile
  • Find a Doctor
  • Appointment Scheduling
  • Real-time Visits
  • Payments and Billing
  • Messages/Instant Chat
  • Previous Medical Records
  • Notifications
  • Book Lab Test
  • Sharing Records and Reports with Doctors

Let’s understand the general step by step working of a telehealth application:

  • The doctors register themselves on the application by creating profiles. The admin can also invite doctors on the platform.
  • The doctor’s profile includes their name, contact information and specialization.
  • After making the profile, they select time slots from a calendar on the application to show when they are available for a telemedicine/telehealth appointment.
  • When a patient logs in to the application, they can search for a doctor with specialization in the field for which they want to seek treatment. 
  • After looking at a doctor’s profile, they go through their calendar to schedule an appointment from one of the available slots.
  • The consultation occurs over chats or a video or audio call, which is usually facilitated by third party systems like Twilio or Angora that offer services to add peer-to-peer audio/video calling. 
  • Patients can directly make payments through the application while booking the appointment. Payment gateways like Stripe, can be integrated into the application to facilitate this function.
  • The doctors initiate the virtual meeting and can reconnect with their patients in case the call disconnects. However, both doctors and patients have the option to reject an incoming call and reschedule the appointment.
  • During the call, patients or doctors can also add notes to maintain a record of their conversation during the meeting. 
  • Doctors can upload prescriptions or create prescriptions using the platform during or after the call.
  • After the appointment, the patients have an option to add feedback and give reviews regarding their appointments.
  • Both doctors and patients can view previous records and prescriptions. Thus, transparency is maintained.

Telehealth applications can also integrate Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to improve healthcare communication by allowing instant access to accurate and updated medical records.

Four advantages of telehealth which improve communication in healthcare are:

  • It provides convenient access to healthcare facilities.
  • It enables easy management and sharing of medical records.
  • It allows quick and easy payments.
  • It reduces the waiting time for patients.

Blockchain-Based Healthcare Applications

Healthcare applications that function on blockchain technology are known as blockchain-based healthcare applications. They allow doctors and patients to store medical data most securely. 

You can understand blockchain based healthcare applications in detail by learning about their features, working and advantages.

What are the key features of Blockchain based Healthcare Applications?

Four key features of Blockchain-based Healthcare applications are:

  • Data is decentralized. No central authority is in control of all the medical information.
  • You cannot alter medical data once it is saved on the blockchain.
  • Medical information is secured with cryptographic keys, which are only accessible to the healthcare network’s stakeholders.
  • All medical information is time-stamped and in chronological order.

How do Blockchain based Healthcare Applications improve communication in healthcare?

Blockchain-based healthcare applications improve communication in healthcare by offering advantages such as:

  • All medical information is available to the stakeholders on their apps. Hence, it is quickly available whenever needed.
  • The data is immutable. This feature builds trust among the stakeholders, as they are sure that the information is authentic and safe.
  • Smart contracts allow quick and easy payments with time-stamped records; hence all transaction updates are securely given to the stakeholders.

Let’s understand one of the examples of building a healthcare app on the blockchain.

Suppose, you are building a smart contracts healthcare system on a blockchain platform. The system improves communication between healthcare providers and patients with the help of the following components:

    • Decentralized Apps (dApps)
    • Smart Contracts
    • Consensus Mechanisms
    • Cryptographic Wallets

A smart contract healthcare system based on the blockchain can deploy customized regulations according to health records. Specific access permissions, cryptographically signed instructions and data authorization rules could be written in the smart contracts to ensure safety. The smart contracts will be saved on the blockchain, which will ensure that all stakeholders’ activities are visible to everyone and that it’s tamper-proof and secure. Smart contracts can also be used to set up specific data retrieval permissions and automate payments.

All the medical records are stored in a database, which generates a cryptographic hash/unique identities/unique fingerprint hash for each record. A database can be on the cloud and on-site, depending on the healthcare organization’s preference. These cryptographic hashes are safely stored in the blockchain, thus linking the medical record with blockchain. It ensures that the data being saved is reliable and unique. The data can be accessed only through private keys, which are only available to the doctor and patient. Also, all blockchain based healthcare applications are Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant, which sets standards for patient data protection.

Patients can also allow doctors to share their medical records with other specialists. In case the doctor wants to add new records to the patient’s medical data, the patient is notified automatically. The doctor cannot add further information until the patient authenticates the notification by accepting it. This measure ensures that the patients are actively involved in their record maintenance process and the communication between the doctor and patient is clear.

For example, suppose you get a blood test done at your regular physician’s clinic. When the results are available, the lab technicians can upload the results to your medical records saved on the cloud database. As your medical records are linked to the blockchain with a hash, you will get a notification that the results are available and whether or not to enable lab technicians to encode the information and put it on your blockchain. These regulations can also be added to your smart contracts to automate the process. Once the information is securely linked with blockchain, you can easily access it whenever you want. It eliminates the need to carry your test results everywhere, reduces the costs of printing or faxing them and you can easily communicate with your doctor about the results as they are readily available.

E-Prescribing

E-Prescribing or Electronic Prescribing refers to doctors providing medical prescriptions on an electronic device and forwarding it to pharmacies. 

How does E-Prescribing improve communication in healthcare?

There are many ways in which E-Prescribing improves communication in healthcare:

  • E-prescribing enhances efficiency, as all medications are prescribed clearly. Hence, healthcare professionals spend a lot less time clarifying patients about medications.
  • E-prescribing improves accuracy as all medicine requirements are directly sent to the pharmacies. Therefore, it reduces medication errors and the scope of any misunderstandings among the pharmacies and patients.
  • E-prescribing ensures medication adherence. The doctor mentions the number of dosages of the medications in the prescription. Hence, it ensures that the patient receives only the prescribed amount of medicines, not more and not less.
  • By integrating E-prescribing with the doctor’s existing EHRs or healthcare applications, the doctors will have access to the patient’s medical insurance records as well. It allows the doctor to prescribe the most cost-effective medications according to the patient’s financial capabilities.
  • They also improve healthcare quality, hence improving the patient-doctor relationship.
  • All e-prescribing applications are Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant, which sets standards for patient data protection.

Let’s understand the working of an e-prescribing system.

The architecture of an e-prescribing system has four components:

  1. Application Server 
    It authenticates the log-in credentials of the doctor and the administrator through a username. For example, a physician’s license number and password authenticate the users.
  2. Hospital Database
    It is the database where the patient’s medical records and medicinal data is stored.
  3. Prescription Database
    It is the database that receives the prescription. The pharmacist takes the prescription from this database to give the drugs to the patient.
  4. Mobile/Web Application
    It is the application with which the users interact.

A patient visits a doctor. After the consultation, the doctor logs in the e-prescribing system. The system verifies his log-in credentials. The e-prescribing system can also be integrated with the clinic’s EHR system, so the doctor can check the patient’s records to see his previous prescriptions. He enters the prescription and sends it to the pharmacy.

The pharmacist logs in the e-prescribing system. After the system authenticates his log-in credentials, he can access the prescription and prepare them before the patient arrives. The pharmacist may also handover a printed copy of the prescription to the patient.

The e-prescribing application software also enables the administrators to add more users to the system and also access different records and prescriptions made through that system. Using development tools like open-source scripting languages (eg., PHP) and databases (eg., MYSQL), you can make an efficient e-prescribing system.

The software development phase can be divided into three parts –

  • Front End Development 
    This phase will consist of the web/mobile application development with which the users will interact.
  • Middle End Development
    This phase will consist of the application server development.
  • Back End Development
    This phase will include the development or integration of databases for storing all information.

The implementation of the system consists of the set up of the following components:

  • Log-in Page
  • Administrator’s Page
  • Doctor’s Page
  • Pharmacists Page
  • Medication Records

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring refers to monitoring patients from a remote location. With digital technologies, health data is collected from the patient’s location and securely transmitted to the doctor’s location.

Remote monitoring of patients has various benefits that can help to improve communication in healthcare. Also, all remote patient monitoring applications are Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant, which sets standards for patient data protection. 

How does Remote Patient Monitoring improve communication in healthcare?

  • Remote Patient Monitoring provides a platform with various communication channels, which facilitates collaborative communications.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring allows doctors to effectively communicate with the patient in case of emergencies without physical visits.
  • It also allows the doctor to receive all information immediately and adequately deploy a team of healthcare professionals to the patient in case of data discrepancies.
  • Since the patients are continuously connected with the doctors, they get good support and feedback.

Let’s understand the working of remote patient monitoring with the help of an example.

We are taking an example of building remote monitoring solution on Azure IoT platform. 

 

  • Data Ingested by IoT Hub

    In remote patient monitoring, the patients wear wearable devices like smartwatches, tablets and sensors to collect their medical data. These devices and sensors are IoT enabled. They gather medical information from the patient, which is ingested by the Azure IoT Hub to transport, store, use and analyze it. The Azure IoT Hub is a managed service to achieve secure communication between IoT devices and Azure. 

  • Ingested Data Stored on Azure Cosmos DB

    Whenever some medical information is gathered, it has to be stored in a secure database. Azure Cosmos DataBase is used here to securely store all sensor and device data ingested by AWS IoT Hub. 
    Azure Cosmos Database is distributed worldwide and is highly scalable. It offers open-source APIs and is fully managed.

  • Implementing Machine Learning and Cognitive Services

    The aim here is to process the stored data. The data goes through the machine learning studio to efficiently build, deploy and manage analysis solutions. Previously trained Cognitive Services APIs or custom Machine Learning models are used to analyze the sensor and device data.
    Azure Machine Learning Models and Cognitive Services APIs offer open-source frameworks and convenient application of AI to enable you to securely and smartly analyze and process the sensor data. The processed data generates results and insights which refer to the issues and updates in the services.

  • Storing Processed Data on Azure Cosmos DB

    Once data is processed, the results are sent back to the Azure Cosmos Data Base.

  • Implementing Power Business Intelligence

    Power Business Intelligence is implemented to generate interactive reporting and analytics. By implementing Power BI to the results generated by Machine Learning Studios and Cognitive APIs, the data’s highly interactive visualizations can be added to the applications. 
    By implementing Power BI, Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is preserved, which helps you to manage access controls and usage of data. Logic Apps also play a role here, as they automate data access once RBAC has been preserved and help you integrate the visualizations with back-end systems.

  • Visualizations Available on Back-End Systems

    Once the visualizations are available on back-end systems with the help of Logic Apps, the team in charge of the patient can take suitable actions like prescribe medications, consult on-call or dispatch a team of healthcare officials in emergency cases.  

Conclusion

Effective communication in healthcare is a necessity. It is responsible for the smooth functioning of the healthcare industry. Poor communication systems can bring entire healthcare systems to a halt and cost them massive amounts of money and patient lives. 

Technology is helping every industry to move towards high efficiency, including the healthcare industry. With the assistance of various technologies, healthcare communication can be improved immensely.

If you are looking for a software development company to build an application for your healthcare institute, consult our healthcare software development experts at LeewayHertz.

Author’s Bio

Akash Takyar
Akash Takyar
CEO LeewayHertz
Akash Takyar is the founder and CEO at LeewayHertz. With the experience of building over 100+ platforms for startups and enterprise allows Akash to rapidly architect and design solutions that are scalable and beautiful.
Akash's ability to build enterprise-grade technology solutions has attracted over 30 Fortune 500 companies, including Siemens, 3M, P&G and Hershey’s. Akash is an early adopter of new technology, a passionate technology enthusiast, and an investor in AI and IoT startups.
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