Nurses have little control of how much information is coming at them, whether in terms of volume, frequency, or urgency. When nurses receive information, they’re expected to process the information, determine its importance, and potentially act on it. This can occur multiple times daily. Many sources detail how information exhaustion is prevalent in the healthcare environment. Compounding the problem is the proliferation of alarms of all types in healthcare. Nurse.org warns that “Unfortunately, due to the high number of false alarms, alarms that are meant to alert clinicians of problems with patients are sometimes being ignored. Assuming that an alarm is false puts patients in harm’s way and could lead to medical mistakes” (Gaines, 2019).
Organizational communication makes its own contribution to the informational overload in healthcare. NurseGrid, a HealthStream partner committed to transforming healthcare for the better, recently posted Information Overload in the Nurse World & How to Fix It.” Here are some ways they shared for healthcare management to lessen the potential for overwhelming staff with information.
Healthcare management likes to send lengthy missives by email, full of details and difficult to digest. There’s no reason one email needs to include a slew of updates, policy changes, reminders, kudos, tsk-tsks, and hospital-wide announcements. When everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized, and the actual important information won’t be retained.
Instead, limit emails to 3 important takeaways and provide them in bullet point format. Stick to the issues that require immediate knowledge. If there is other information that needs to be shared, save it for the monthly staff meeting.
In many healthcare organizations, the walls are covered in flyers. Sometimes they are even hung inside staff bathrooms. Those few moments of silence are seen as golden opportunities by management to communicate out just one more “urgent” issue. But the only thing that feels urgent at that moment has nothing to do with what’s written on the flyer.
Instead, limit all flyers to a bulletin board, and don’t expect any of that information to be retained. More importantly, if something is truly, vitally important, don’t put it on a flyer! This is a good opportunity to create a stricter definition of what constitutes as “urgent and important” information.
No one appreciates it when their phone blows up on their days off with pleas from a boss to work extra. Response rates are poor because the recipient knows who is calling and texting and can ignore it. If you text to communicate with your staff while they are not at work, you’re failing to communicate properly and adding to the oppressive noise at the worst possible time.
Instead, employ modern communication solutions designed specifically for healthcare. Avoid invading employees’ home time. Invest in solutions that will improve your response rates while simultaneously boosting staff satisfaction.
The communication problem in healthcare emphasizes how nurse managers have to be more intentional in their efforts to communicate with their employees. Caring for patients is too important to waste their time with unimportant information. Likewise, more controlled and purposeful methods to communicate can help staff absorb more information with half the annoyance.
Gaines, K., “Alarm Fatigue is Way Too Real (and Scary) For Nurses,” nurse.org, August 19, 2019, Retrieved at https://nurse.org/articles/alarm-fatigue-statistics-patient-safety/.
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