Best practices for nurses: Using tech to update families with critical health news

Research has shown that when healthcare providers keep patients and their families well-informed, there's a decrease in ER visits and faster recovery. Here's how to do it with tech.

Telemedicine was already a steadily growing industry, but remote healthcare communication has skyrocketed in recent months due to COVID-19. For obvious reasons, many families have not been able to communicate with medical professionals in person. It’s meant that crucial, sometimes emotional conversations are more frequently happening via communication technology.

This added layer of separation between nurses and families can lead to confusion if best practices aren’t followed. It’s crucial that the right information gets to the right people, too – research has shown that when healthcare providers keep patients and family informed, there’s a decrease in emergency room visits and faster recovery.

Here’s how to do it with tech.

Don’t forget the fundamentals

Whether you’re talking to a family in person, on video-conferencing software or through instant messages, the basics of communicating critical health information still hold true. One of the most widely-adopted formulas is one you’ve probably already heard of, but it never hurts to get a refresher on the fundamentals. Keep SBAR in mind:

  • Situation – what is happening?
  • Background – what context should you provide?
  • Assessment – how do you interpret the situation?
  • Recommendation – what do you think should happen next?

Follow the SBAR framework (or something similar) and you’ll never stray far from delivering clear, concise information no matter the medium. That’s especially important when families don’t have the benefit of an in-person meeting.

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Choose the right tech

There are three watchwords (okay, technically five) when it comes to adopting new communication technology: security, ease-of-use and reliability.

Any new solution has to be HIPAA-compliant, or you’ll risk getting in legal trouble that will impact quality of care. Click here for a detailed look at data security in a crisis, and here for a rundown of HIPAA and HITRUST-compliant tech.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) offers a helpful set of a questions to ask yourself when adopting ‘communication interventions’. They highlight those second two watchwords, and offer a useful checklist to run through. Ask yourself if the tech:

  • Is easy to understand and follow
  • Is consistent and predictable
  • Is resilient (If the process fails in one part of the system can another part recover the error?)
  • Steers users to do the right thing in the right way

If it’s secure and it ticks all of the RCN’s boxes, you’re good to go. Don’t just use one medium, either – use each to their strengths. Video conferencing may serve best when a more human touch is required, but IM is far more efficient when time is of the essence. Adopt a roster of software that’ll cover you in each situation.

Seek out feedback

Healthcare has traditionally been pretty slow on the tech uptake, largely thanks to strict regulations that govern the industry. Thanks to the pandemic, more providers are having to adapt, and adapt fast. The process will inevitably involve some trial-and-error, and feedback should guide improvements.

‘Patient and Family-Centered Care’ (PFCC) has become the norm for a reason: it delivers better health outcomes. The PFCC ethos should extend to your remote communication processes. Ask families to give feedback on their experience, record it, and use it to guide improvements.

Do the same with your staff. Communication tech doesn’t just serve public-facing needs: a study of IM use by nurses found that the technology was also important for ‘socialization and catharsis'. Delivering critical health information to families can be emotionally taxing, so make sure it works for your colleagues as well.

Family first

Communicating difficult or urgent information with a patient’s family is never going to be easy, but technology shouldn’t be the reason it’s difficult. People care about communication – it’s directly linked to patient and family satisfaction.

If you stick to the fundamentals that you already know inside-out, ensure that your tech is reliable and dedicate time to making improvements. Those on the receiving end will notice, too.

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