October 26, 2023

The Cost of Inefficient Provider-to-Family Communication

This particular out-of-date workflow comes with a heavy cost.

While the proliferation of digital health solutions have reconstructed many workflows within a hospital, there is a critical yet overlooked function still being handled in an analog manner: Provider-to-family communication.

Whether in the OR, PACU, or inpatient floor,  medical staff have to jump through several hoops to deliver an update to their patients family. 90% of nursing leaders we talk to have reported that the family communication process begins with a phone-call. Almost immediately, the process proves wasteful as a self-reported 50% of calls are not picked up.  Of the 50% of calls that make a connection on the first ring, staff deal with several challenges such as not knowing for certain who is on the other end, being asked many questions extending the duration of the call, and having difficulty relaying complex updates in a concise manner. And for the other half of calls that went unanswered, the staff either set aside time to make another attempt soon after, or can expect callback volume that will interrupt them from their work. The reality is that nursing staff do not have control over the way in which they communicate to their patients’ loved ones. Although it is not their fault, they bear the responsibility to deal with the results: delays, interruptions, and even frustrated family members.

The effects of leaning on old fashioned methods to perform this communication transcends the concern of the medical staff.  This issue hits the wider healthcare organization with 3-fold costs: employee engagement, patient satisfaction, and financial efficiency.

Employee Engagement

It is widely known that staffing is a long-standing top priority for hospital leadership, with COVID-19 only exacerbating the issue. With it being increasingly expensive to replace a staff member, the importance of keeping employees happy is paramount. Now, imagine a nurse at your hospital dealing with a busy workload of a low nurse-to-patient ratio. The nurse’s plate is always full of urgent patient care matters. But sprinkled on top, is the messy and frustrating task of keeping the family up to date. Because this task takes an uncertain amount of time, and they feel that they have no control over the situation, additional stress is felt. In realizing this, it becomes clear that a low hanging fruit to help the nurse manage their workload and therefore reducing burnout, is to rethink the family communication pathways.

Financial Efficiency

The cost savings in modernizing your provider-to-family communication isn’t only derived from reducing burnout. It can also make a difference with how your existing staff spend their time. Imagine a nurse that spends 30 minutes a shift communicating to the patient-family over the phone or face-to-face. With a messaging solution like Familyfirst, nurses can reduce this time allotment to about 10 minutes. Through the lens of staffing spend efficiency, these improvements are considerable: At a $45 per hour rate for a nurse, the organization would be reallocating $7.50 per shift, from family communication tasks back to bedside care tasks. Over the course of a year, this is $1,950 in more efficient staffing spend for that single nurse. Now, imagine a staff of 10 nurses plus a case manager that spends up to an hour communicating with the family every day. Now imagine a staff of over 100 nurses, PAs, case managers, hospitalists and other care providers. The cost efficiency gains become very clear.

Patient Satisfaction

When communication breaks down, the frustration of the patient-family is heard well beyond the medical staff. These breakdowns will often reflect themselves in satisfaction scores. It is widely accepted that patients consider their own family’s experience while reporting their own experience. And in a considerable number of cases, it’s the family themselves filling out the satisfaction surveys. Once again, it becomes clear that addressing family communication pathways is a low hanging fruit to level up satisfaction scores and increase bottom line revenue through value-based reimbursements.

Across clinical contexts, medical staff are relying on analog methods such as phone calls to communicate with the patient-family. These out-dated workflows should not be taken for granted, as they are costing healthcare organizations  through added staff burnout, inefficient staffing spend,  and a loss of bottom-line revenue through value-based reimbursements.