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The 5 Dos and Don’ts of Patient Communication Boards


Patient communication boards are one example of healthcare signs and graphics that can be used to increase patient safety in hospital settings

Playwright George Bernard Shaw once famously said that “the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Miscommunications – and the false assumptions that often result – are a challenge in any business setting. However, in a healthcare setting, poor communication can become deadly. HIPAA Journal put it this way:

The effects of poor communication in healthcare can have extremely serious consequences. As with other businesses, poor communication decreases profits but in healthcare communication failures negatively affect patient outcomes. Poor communication results in misdiagnoses and other medical mistakes that can easily lead to avoidable health complications and the death of patients.

The Cost of Communication Failures in Healthcare

Researchers at CRICO Strategies examined more than 23,000 medical malpractice claims in an effort to quantify the impact of such communication breakdowns. Their findings were sobering and have reverberated throughout the healthcare industry. Sadly, of the malpractice suits studied by CRICO Strategies:

  • Roughly 30% were attributable to communication failures.
  • More than 1,700 patients died as a result.
  • Hospitals ultimately paid out $1.7 billion in malpractice claims.
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Patient Communication Boards as a Solution

Given observations like these, it’s not surprising that patient communication boards have become a ubiquitous presence in hospital rooms nationwide. Used properly, they are shown to improve doctor-patient communication, patient safety and overall patient satisfaction.

Patient Safety

In a pilot program at Stanford University Medical Center, implementation of simple dry-erase patient whiteboards measurably improved patients’ awareness of physician names, treatment goals and estimated discharge dates. Likewise, hospital staff overwhelmingly found the whiteboards to be helpful and were likely to integrate such communication tools in their daily workflow ongoing.

Another experiment at York Hospital in York, Penn., found that adding a simple phrase to a patient communication board could have dramatic safety effects. After the words “Call a nurse, a fall is worse” were added to the hospital’s in-room patient whiteboards, the incidence of patient falls declined by 62%.

Patient Satisfaction

Beyond these safety implications, patient communication boards have also been found to be instrumental to overall patient satisfaction. The Institute for Healthcare Communication identified nine core elements of patient satisfaction, five of which speak directly to the function and benefits of a patient communication board:

  • Communication: Explain information clearly, understand the patient’s experience and provide viable options.
  • Control: Encourage the patient to express their ideas, concerns and expectations.
  • Decision-making: Acknowledge the importance of the patient’s social and mental functioning as much as their physical functioning.
  • Dignity: Treat the patient with respect and invite them to partner in their healthcare decisions.
  • Expectations: Provide an opportunity for the patient to tell their story.

These five elements of patient satisfaction are at work every time you see a patient whiteboard being used. Here again, research backs up their effectiveness. In a controlled clinical trial published on PubMed.gov, researchers compared satisfaction levels among patients discharged before and after patient communication whiteboards had been implemented. Not surprisingly, patients who had the benefit of whiteboards assigned higher levels of satisfaction to the quality of nurse communications, physician communications and decision-making involvement.

How to Use Patient Communication Boards Effectively

Simply investing in patient communication boards for your hospital will not enhance communication in itself. How a board is used is arguably just as important as the board itself. Here is a collection of five dos and don’ts to remember when implementing communication board systems in a healthcare environment.

DO: Make sure boards are visible to the patient

For a patient communication board to have the desired effect, it must be placed in the direct line of sight of the patient. Affixing it to the wall over the patient’s shoulder, behind the IV pump or beyond a frequently closed privacy curtain defeats the purpose.

DON’T: Neglect to keep boards updated

Don’t implement a patient communication board system unless a protocol is in place to keep boards updated continually. Patient satisfaction and safety actually suffer when patient communication boards are only used sporadically. A tool that was designed to prevent miscommunication suddenly becomes a source of outdated information – and risk for hospital and patient alike.

DO: Attach dry erase markers directly to the boards

In settings where adoption of patient communication boards lags, it’s the lack of convenient access to dry erase markers that is often to blame. For a board system to work well, doctors and nurses must always have ready access to a marker where and when needed.

DON’T: Include more information than can be reasonably managed

It’s a natural impulse to include all of the information that a patient might possibly desire on their communication board. However, this can actually have a negative effect on patient satisfaction. The timing of treatment appointments and visits by specialists frequently changes throughout the course of a day. Unless this information can be kept up to date at all times, the patient may perceive the hospital to be disorganized or providing substandard care.

DO: Engage the patient in maintaining the board

Hospital staff sometimes forget that communication boards are primarily designed to serve the needs of the patient, not the staff. Be sure to ask the patient if they understand what has been written on the board, if the treatments noted on the board have actually occurred, and if there is anything else they would like to see communicated there. Remember, patients have little else to look at in a typical hospital room. Make sure the patient communication board is doing its job.

Taylor Healthcare: Patient Communication Boards and More

Taylor Healthcare and its legacy companies have been providing communication solutions to the healthcare industry for more than 100 years. Signs and graphics are among the many products we offer to help increase patient satisfaction and the quality of patient care. We manufacture a wide range of wall-mounted patient communication boards including designs with sleek aluminum frames, clear plastic overlays and magnetic dry-erase surfaces. All are infinitely customizable for your brand and communication needs. Contact a Taylor Healthcare representative to learn more.

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