Shoemakers make shoes. Sailors sail boats. Bankers take care of money. Every job has a primary objective, that which makes it valuable to its customers.
In medicine, we take care of patients, for sure, and an important part of providing that care is communicating with one another so we can coordinate, optimize, plan, track, adjust and educate about that care. As we all know, we are actually paid based on communication of what we did. We’re of the mind, “If it isn’t in the chart, it didn’t happen.”
Few would dispute that the best and most direct form of communication is speaking face to face. We’ve learned to not only hear each other’s words, but see and interpret each other’s body language and facial expressions, and listen to one another’s tone of voice, all of which communicates a lot of information beyond what words alone convey. Unfortunately, face-to-face communication is often either not possible or not available for giving crucial information to another clinician. We are then left to choose some other means of getting our message across – phone, email, text messages, a written note, etc. Each of these methods has its upsides and downsides, and I hope you’ll take a moment to explore with me some important points about these forms of communication.
The first point is that our message needs to be accurate.
If we misspell the name of a drug, or use the wrong patient’s name, serious harm can result. Numbers are particularly easy to transpose or to copy incorrectly. Sending a message to the wrong person, the wrong address, or using the wrong phone number or the wrong fax number can cause no end of headaches (not to mention constituting a HIPAA violation). The point is, sending a message by writing or typing requires a great deal of care to make sure that we’re saying exactly what we want to say, and sending it to exactly who we want to receive it.
A second point is the security of the message.
I’m sure we would all agree that leaving a voice message is not appropriate for almost any message containing personal health information. Email messages are similarly problematic, and should only be sent using secure email servers like the BayCare email service. Text messages should only be sent using a secure texting service, such as that available via the BayCare Community App (easily downloadable from the Play Store or the Apple Store on your phone).
A third point is to avoid editorializing when communicating in writing.
A patient’s chart is simply the wrong place to criticize colleagues, nurses or the hospital. How many times have we seen stories in which supposedly private comments showed up in the newspaper or in court papers? It is far better to stick to the facts, and save opinions and comments for face-to-face conversations!
Good communication is essential to good patient care. Please communicate clearly, securely and accurately to the other members of your patient’s health care team. Many medical misadventures could have been avoided with better communication between team members. We appreciate your attention to these crucial points.