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Research: Population Health Struggles Tied to Lack of Communication

April 7, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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A lack of communication in the healthcare system is hampering successful population health management, according to a recent survey from Harris Poll and the Knoxville, Tenn.-based PerfectServe.

The survey of 955 healthcare professionals represents a broad cross-section of the healthcare provider ecosystem:  physicians (hospitalists, primary care physicians in large offices, specialists in both hospital and office settings); nurses in hospitals; case managers; and, hospital administrators and office managers. While 98 percent of respondents (both clinical and administrative) feel improved communication with patients is required for effective population health management, and 95 percent believe that successful care collaboration leads to reduced readmissions, clinicians feel hindered by a patchwork of antiquated or underutilized communication technologies, wasted exchanges, and concerns about privacy and security, according to the survey.

Communication breakdowns throughout the healthcare system were a big issue for respondents: 69 percent of clinicians feel patient care is often delayed while waiting for important information about the patient; more than half of clinicians (52 percent) admit they don’t always know the correct care team member to contact in a given situation; and 71 percent of responding physicians indicate they have wasted time trying to communicate with the broader care team.

As such, when it comes to tech, clinicians are left wanting more. The most common current communication technologies used in optimizing population health management were phone calls (83 percent) and online patient portals (74 percent). In fact, newer and more detailed remote and mobile technologies such as telemedicine (39 percent), remote coordination (36 percent), video conferencing (36 percent), remote monitoring  (32 percent), mobile care team communications (32 percent), and  remote consults (31 percent) lag these more traditional communications mechanisms.

Among clinicians, when there is a need to communicate with a physician within the organization around complex or in-depth information or to obtain answers to questions, the electronic health record (EHR) is used as the mechanism only 12 percent of the time. What’s more, nearly three in 10 medical professionals are not satisfied with the technology their organization uses for secure communications.

“Policy makers, hospitals and health systems are rightly focused on improving population health, but these survey results demonstrate a very real pain point that needs to be addressed before the industry will ever succeed in making that a reality,” Jennifer DeBruler, M.D., medical director of the Chicago-based Advocate Health Care’s Contact Center, said in a statement that accompanied the survey results. “Without unified communication across providers, boosting population health, and realizing the associated cost and care benefits, will be impossible.”

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