A study of interactions between families and healthcare providers published in the BMJ this month sparked my interest. It showed that improving communication between the two groups reduced harmful medical errors by 39%.
As if that vast reduction in medical errors weren’t enough, it was caused by harnessing the input of team members who don’t cost facilities a penny. In an era of intense financial pressures for the industry, free team members are a gift that shouldn’t be overlooked.
According to the researchers, the study “indicates that improving communication between families and healthcare providers doesn’t just feel good, it can help improve the safety and quality of care.”
In Editor Jim Berklan’s excellent blog postlast month, he points out research that shows that families “don’t know what they’re talking about” when it comes to loved ones’ end-of-life care preferences. (If that’s so, we as experts should be facilitating Care Conversations.)
While family members may fall short on end-of-life wishes, they’re generally more expert than we are on their parents’ medical history and behavior. They know that their father didn’t react well to a particular medication when he took it at home or that Mom is “acting funny,” even if they don’t know why.
I myself have gone to the nursing station with the complaint that a resident is “off” somehow and been dismissed in my concerns, to the detriment of the resident’s health. Over the years, I’ve learned that I should phrase it as a “change in mental status” and to speak in a tone that conveys the depth of my experience and the seriousness of my observations, but basically I’m saying that the resident is “acting funny” and it seems physical, not psychological. I’ve detected sepsis, strokes and other emergencies this way.
If the nurses aren’t receptive to perhaps poorly-phrased information from psychologists, recreation therapists and other non-medical personnel, they may also be missing valuable information from families.
The BMJstudy shows how we can train staff to be more responsive to family input.