It All Comes Back to Communication

In the nearly five years that I have been participating in this patient safety movement, I have met thousands of wonderful healthcare providers. I have visited hospitals all over the country. I have sat and listened to dozens of patient safety conferences and grand rounds. I have learned big words like nosocomial infections.

Through it all I have told Josie’s story and every step of the way I have tried my best to inspire caregivers to incorporate patient safety best practices into their everyday experience on the job. I have looked and listened, and have been amazed at all of the good I see, while also being confused as to why things can’t happen faster and why 98,000 people still continue to die from medical errors every year.

The thing that really continues to amaze me is the communication issue. Josie died because people didn’t listen. They didn’t listen to me, and they didn’t listen to each other. I can’t tell you how many stories I have on my computer from families who have been affected by medical errors, and there always seems to be a common thread, “They didn’t listen.”

Correct me if I’m wrong. Doesn’t the Joint Commission report that over 60% of all sentinel events are due to a breakdown in communication? I am not a doctor or a nurse. I am not at the bedside, and I am not an expert in the field of patient safety; however it seems to me that if people communicated better we’d all be safer. I believe in high tech solutions. It is where we are heading, but wouldn’t we get more bang for our buck if we communicated better?

I was in Pennsylvania a few months ago at a wonderful hospital by the name Abington Memorial. I was presenting at their Grand Rounds. After the presentation, I was lucky enough to join them on their Patient Safety rounds. The team consisted of two nurses, a doctor, and a board member. I was struck by two things:

The first was the presence of the board member. There is a lot of talk these days about getting board members involved, especially when it comes to safety and quality. It was so great to see first hand a hospital that was doing just that.

The second thing that struck me- Every unit we went to, the patient safety officer would ask the nursing team on the floor a question:

“If you could have anything you wanted on your floor to keep patients safe what would it be?”

Each floor had variations on the same response:

“I wish we could get into the doctors’ heads.”
“I wish we were more like a team.”
“I wish we communicated better.”

That is what they wanted. They did not ask for fancy equipment or the latest in technology. They wanted to understand what the doctors were thinking. They wanted better communication between the nurses and the doctors. The thing that amazes me even more is that I hear this everywhere I go. Communication- and it is not just between the doctors and the nurses. It is between the patients, their families and those who are caring for them.

It seems so simple, but I am learning that changing behavior is not an easy thing to do. I don’t know what it takes, maybe time, maybe another generation, hopefully not more deaths.

I will tell you one thing. The board member that day heard that message loud and clear and I bet she shared what she learned with her fellow board members, at least I hope she did.

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