New research from healthcare comms firm Spōk into how clinical communication is handled in U.S. healthcare organizations—as well as the trends, challenges, and predictions shaping this critical capability—indicates a milestone in understanding healthcare communication not only because of the long-term trends it reveals, but also because of COVID-19 related changes that have emerged.
The new report is the firm’s eleventh annual survey on communications in healthcare. This year more than 200 executives, physicians, nurses, IT personnel, contact center representatives, and more from around the U.S. responded with eye-opening input about the state of communication at their respective organizations.
“We knew it was important to explore the state of healthcare communication including devices, projects, information security, and motivations for implementing new technology,” said Vincent D. Kelly, president and chief executive officer of Spōk Holdings, in a news release. “Additionally, we wanted to dig deeper into the evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to the ongoing clinician burnout crisis.”
The full impact of the difficulties hospitals and health systems have experienced since early 2020 is still coming to light, but the toll has been significant on organizations as well as the amazing healthcare workers going above and beyond every day in the face of uncertainty. Key findings in the 2021 survey include insights into clinician burnout and the role of communication, the impact of COVID-19 on clinical communications, perceived efficiency of communication and current challenges, and the contact center contribution to patient experience.
Clinician burnout and the role of communications
- Approximately 92 percent of respondents believe levels of burnout have increased at least moderately since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
- The levels of burnout since early 2020 have increased “a great deal” according to 60 percent of clinical executives surveyed. Every contact center staff member surveyed (100 percent) reported burnout has increased at least moderately since the onset of the pandemic. Interestingly, IT executives (17%) were the only ones surveyed who felt levels of burnout had not increased at all
- The data shows that clinical executives and contact center staff have experienced the greatest amount of burnout in the past year. While IT staff reported the lowest levels of “a great deal” of burnout. When it comes to clinicians, only 4 percent reported not feeling any levels of burnout
COVID-19 impact on clinical communications
- More than one-third (35 percent) of respondents believe COVID-19 impacted PHI being communicated via unsecure or personal communication tools. Less than 20 percent reported that the pandemic had no impact
- With more than 57 percent of respondents reporting their organization’s contact center contributed considerably or a great deal to the patient experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that hospital leaders recognize the contact center as more than the “answer and transfer” department of the past
- Nearly half (48 percent) of all IT communication projects were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly the same percentage (43 percent) expect to resume implementing those projects within the next six months
Efficiency of communication and current challenges
- Smartphones have remained the No. 1 supported device since 2012, and their prevalence continues to increase. While there is a decrease in the use of onsite and wide-area pagers, the slight increase in encrypted pagers shows reliance on these devices has remained relatively stable over time
- Consistent with the 2020 findings, respondents chose budget and resource constraints as the No. 1 obstacle to advancing hospital communications
- About 76 percent of healthcare professionals surveyed have some level of concern that patient information and proprietary health system data are being communicated via unsecure or personal communication tools. Only 13 percent are not concerned. Concern has grown in the past year. In 2020, 17 percent were not concerned
Contact center contribution to patient experience
- 57 percent of respondents reported their organization’s contact center contributed considerably or a great deal to the patient experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 1 percent of respondents felt the contact center didn’t proactively contribute
- Clinical executives and contact center staff reported feeling a great deal of burnout, more than other titles (36 percent of contact center staff reported feeling “a great deal” of burnout, 50 percent reported feeling burnout “considerably” or “moderately”)
- Every contact center staff surveyed (100 percent) reported burnout has increased at least moderately since the COVID-19 pandemic
The responses from the 2021 survey have yielded valuable information that can help the healthcare industry tackle their biggest communication challenges and guide planning efforts in the coming months and years. Although the mix of communication devices will continue to shift in the future, the value of having a single platform to communicate with all devices will be key. Encrypted and secure communication via smartphones, pagers, and other devices remains essential, especially in these unpredictable times when fast decision-making is required.