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Here’s What One Doctor Says is Ruining Healthcare's Internal Communication Strategies

Posted by Sandy Yu on 8.23.2018

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Just over one-fifth of employees in the healthcare industry voluntarily or involuntarily left their positions in 2017.

This overwhelming statistic from Compdata’s 2017 Compensation Data Healthcare report of more than 11,000 healthcare employers points to a low engagement epidemic in the healthcare workforce. Unfortunately, these numbers go beyond engagement -- they also impact organizational health.

In fact, according to Healthcare Finance News, with this turnover rate, if an organization with 3,000 employees, each paid an average salary of $45,000, loses 20 percent of them, the turnover costs would total a whopping $27 million.

Even though healthcare leaders are aware of these frightening statistics, the fix is challenging. In a fast-paced, changing industry such as healthcare, finding ways to engage employees is a major obstacle.

This is especially true when it comes to internal communication efforts. Because the healthcare industry comes with its own set of specific internal communication challenges, we reached out to Dr. Tom Davis, a leading expert in value-based healthcare.

Here are the major obstacles Dr. Davis says healthcare leaders need to overcome to improve their own internal communication efforts:

1. Pure volume

Research supports the conclusion that humans, even exceptional ones, can only make so many decisions between periods of sleep before the quality of their decisions deteriorate. Steve Jobs hacked this by having a closet full of black turtlenecks and wearing one every day.  

The key tactic is to remove as much decision-making from the clinician as possible.

The best practice is to have every single piece of information undergo curation by an appropriate member of the team -- clinical information by a medical professional, administrative information by an administrative assistant, etc. These individuals can work well off of algorithms, forwarding only as appropriate. 

2. Unwanted and expensive interruptions

Clinicians get paid based on closing a compliant chart. When they’re finished with one, they move on to the next. Not only are they penalized financially if they don’t move on promptly, but if they are consistently slow in doing so, they lose the opportunity to work at all.

In that context, any communication that interrupts the clinician from attending to their work is an unwelcome, value-sucking distraction. They’ll address it with the minimal possible engagement required so they can get on to what they know their organization really wants.

Clinicians will put great ingenuity into minimizing their non-clinical responsibility so they can keep up with their work and maybe even give a patient good medical care. Given this minimal engagement, any value in the communication will be lost.

Even though curating communication to cut down on volume helps, communication strategies won’t be effective until clinicians are no longer seen, compensated, and managed as factory workers.

3. Engagement is down

The more non-clinical tasks placed on clinicians, the more disengaged and less productive they will become.

If curation is being used, an explicit statement of how the communication should be curated can help. And the use of intra-communication clicks and post-communication tests can help, as well.

employeechannel_-_82F23_custom (1)However, when clinicians have a shared-risk component in their compensation and the freedom to innovate care delivery, organizations have very little difficulty getting their clinicians to engage with relevant communications.

It’s critical to remember that engagement comes first -- and that comes from practice design, clinician well-being programs, and corporate goals.

Tom Davis, MD, FAAFP, Founder of Tom Davis Consulting

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Topics: employee engagement, internal communications, employee communication, healthcare

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