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miscommunication in healthcare

The Real Cost of Miscommunication in Healthcare

Healthcare is a multi-trillion-dollar per year industry, and the cost of misdirected or outdated communications in the industry reaches into the billions. With shrinking Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance payments pushing organizations into the red, healthcare administrators and CEOs need viable alternatives for cutting costs. , Starting with how the three L’s—litigation, labor, and latency—there are a number of hidden ways poor care team communications are quietly contributing to costs in these areas.

Litigation (physical costs to patients and resulting court costs to provider)

According to CRICO in a 2016 report, about 30 percent of all medical malpractice claims between 2009 and 2013 stemmed from errant communications. Sadly, these mistakes in communication resulted in nearly 2,000 deaths and a loss of $1.7 billion in court settlements to the offending institutions. Moreover, CRICO’s assessment claims, “the statistics…are likely only scratching the surface” in light of the number of miscommunications detrimental to patients that failed to reach court.

Considering that a 2016 Johns-Hopkins study put the number of deaths from medical errors north of 250,000 per year, both the financial and human costs are likely far higher, and these statistics don’t even account for those who survived but suffered a permanent injury requiring lifelong care.

In fact, the report also identifies miscommunication as the culprit in nearly 4 of every ten severe injury malpractice claims.

In Managed Care Magazine, one unfortunate victim of miscommunication statistics happened to be a diabetic patient. Staff at a medical clinic received repeated calls from the patient, but failed to relay the messages to the patient’s primary caregiver and whose calls were never returned by the clinic. The patient subsequently died of diabetic ketoacidosis. Clearly, in this case, as with many others, miscommunication came at an ultimate price.

Labor Costs: How They Relate to Communications

Unfortunately, pinpointing the magic number in staffing particular care units at the correct hours or days can be challenging for hospital administrators. According to a report in GetReferralMD.com, the healthcare industry spends nearly $250 billion to conduct 30 billion transactions each year.

The same report indicates providers must complete 20,000 forms annually on average—leading to labor costs of $20 per document. Additionally, citing Pricewaterhouse, the article reports that each misfiled document costs about $120 in labor and $220 for recreating said forms. The numbers are astounding.

If this wasn’t enough to induce headaches among administrators, patient charts for 30 percent of all visits are not found.

The report notes that 8 of every 10 of these errant or uncompleted filings involve “informational or personal miscommunication among colleagues, between patient and physician, or inaccessible medical records” and similar relays of data.

The slow adoption of proper communications systems, methodologies, and handoffs, has far-reaching ramifications from labor costs to patient safety—all of which can be greatly addressed by clinical communications and collaboration solutions.

Latency

As evidenced by the previously mentioned case of the unfortunate diabetic, about 25 percent of all patients in the U.S. report that data from one provider did not reach another provider in time for their appointment. Much of this blame falls on obsolete and stubbornly persistent communication modes like pagers, fax machines and overhead paging systems.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) cites substantial dissatisfaction among physicians over untimely relay of information and insufficient data in referral letters.

The NCBI posits that a “better understanding of problems in communication should be the first step in creating systems that facilitate better quality referrals.”

It notes that despite the changes and advancements in communications over the years, “it is not clear that better communication is occurring.” The fact that physicians “are busier than ever” attests to this lack of execution when communicating from one provider or physician to another.

The center adds that communication “needs to be examined in greater detail to determine ways to improve it.”

Far-Reaching Costs Miscommunications

Until institutions, providers, and agencies adopt better staff training programs in clinical communications, more foolproof methodologies in handing off information, and decide to upgrade data systems, these numbers and statistics stand only to rise.

 

By Alyssa Trenkamp, Senior Director of Marketing Communications
Alyssa Trenkamp is the senior director of marketing communications at TigerConnect and an 18 year veteran in the enterprise technology sector. Her experience ranges from high-growth startups to Fortune 100 companies that provide technology solutions for a variety of industries including healthcare, financial services, government and many more. Alyssa holds a BA in journalism from Western Washington University.

 

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