Gaps in Communication and Inadequate Information Flow

Communication gaps and inadequate information flow are two leading causes of errors in the HTM industry.

Tue Mar 28 2023By Angela Bennett

Communication gaps and inadequate information flow are two leading causes of errors in the HTM industry. In order to fully understand where communication goes wrong, we need to understand what proper communication actually is. Whether it’s inside the team, the healthcare facility, or across the industry, miscommunication happens every day. Miscommunication between HTM staff and their leaders also can create problems that affect the end user (the patient). Finally, there are ways to navigate through situations where it seems communication and information are not being understood correctly. It is important to understand your audience and how you want to deliver the message you are trying to convey to them, to keep the miscommunication and inadequate information flow to a minimum. 

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, Communication is defined as the transmission of information, either verbally or nonverbally. There are at least four parts of communication. The Sender, the Receiver, the Message, and the Feedback. The sender is the person giving the message. The Receiver is the person who is getting the message. The Message is the information being passed between the Sender and the Receiver. The Feedback is the response from the receiver to the sender based on the message the sender sent. These four moving parts can happen quickly during any conversation in everyday life. It can be a short conversation or a long conversation depending on the information needing to be shared. Anytime there is a message being shared, there is always room for miscommunication. Some factors that come into play in miscommunication are noise and context. Noise can be any outside factors that cause interruptions that occur during communication. Context is how the message is given or received during the conversation. For example, the emotion or feeling behind the message when the sender is telling the receiver the message. It's important to know the pieces of communication in order to become a better communicator in life, and in the workplace. 

Healthcare is a very intense and stressful field. Everything is fast paced and always changing. Communication is vital in any healthcare environment, and an individual’s very health (up to their life) depends on the swift and accurate flow of communication between healthcare associates. Different departments need to be able to communicate with each other and work together for patient safety. One example of interdepartmental communication is between the clinical staff and the HTM department. When clinical staff calls in a piece of equipment that needs to be serviced, or when the HTM professional is communicating to the clinician to schedule service that needs to be completed on a piece of equipment, communication is key. The clinician needs to be able to articulate the issue with the equipment and give specific details to help the HTM professional assess and evaluate the device. This will cut down troubleshooting time which will get the equipment repaired and back into service for patient use faster. Correct terminology is not required but giving details about what the device is doing, or not doing, instead of putting a sticky note on the device such as “broken” and sending it to biomed, will help the servicing process move quicker. Conversely, when a device needs to be taken out of service for any reason the HTM professional needs to work together with the department so that they do not interfere with the patient throughput or worse. Miscommunication or even failing to communicate at all in this instance can create friction between the clinical staff and the HTM department. The biomed took down a device and didn’t inform the staff. The biomed is in the wrong as he/she didn’t know if the staff needed that device for a service or procedure. Now the clinical staff must reschedule the patient which is an inconvenience to both the staff and more importantly the patient. These kinds of gaps in communication could cause a lot of frustration and stress. 

Miscommunication can be the climax in any TV show or movie, but it doesn’t have to be quite the predicament in real life as it is in Hollywood. Communication and information flow amongst the HTM team is also vital. HTM professionals are very busy and are constantly on the go with PMs, repairs, Recalls, and other daily tasks. It's important to stay efficient and productive so that the hospital continues to operate smoothly with their medical equipment. Like all shops across the country, not every tech has their own company car, not every tech has their own set of tools, and not every tech has their own set of test equipment. Shops share these commodities. They have to communicate what they will need for the day to their teammates so that they can coordinate their days. Communication to the HTM leader is also important so they can hold the team accountable for their productivity and help with any barriers that might come up. It's also important to keep communication and information flow going amongst the team just to help keep the morale of the team up and the camaraderie going. One of the worst things in a work environment is having a team that is not comfortable enough with each other to have a conversation with one another. It’s a great feeling to be able to hear your team talking, laughing, and on occasion cut up. That's how you know they are comfortable with each other. Another sign that they are comfortable with each other, is if they can hold each other accountable and also ask each other for help. In the HTM field, we have to be able to keep each other in check. We are in healthcare and we expect the clinicians to hold each other accountable, we have to be part of that, and be part of that team. 

The HTM field is a very small field, compared to other fields in healthcare. As it grows both in the number of professionals as well as scopes of work, it's important for us as HTM professionals to communicate across the field. From the Military division, to OEMs, to ISOs, to field service professionals, to inhouse shops. Being that this field is small and that we are expected to see growth while expecting to lose many biomeds in the near future our field is already having to pull electricians and mechanics into our ranks to fill the gaps. It's important for us as a profession to be able to rely on each other. Many of these non-biomeds have a learning curve which we as technicians and leaders have to teach them when we do pull them into our ranks. We have to teach them how to communicate not just with ourselves in the field, but with medical staff, patients, vendors, and etc. 

Not going to lie, friendly competition is what keeps us all thriving and motivated, but there is something to be said about us all as a whole. It's important for OEMs to be able to communicate to local biomed shops to make sure that the equipment is getting taken care of appropriately and in a timely manner. The ability to openly communicate across the whole spectrum of the HTM field, shows that we can come together in times of need, such as a pandemic. That was a lesson all career fields needed to learn but HTM really used that time to reinvent how we as a profession can work together and get things done for the safety of the patients we help provide care for. 

There are ways to get around the communication gaps. First it is important to understand your audience and how you want to deliver the message you are trying to convey to them. This will keep the miscommunication and inadequate information flow to a minimum. For example, let's say you are speaking to your team as a leader and are putting forth some information you would like to get across. Once you have finished conveying the information, call on a team member and have them convey that message back to you in their own words. This will let you know if your communication and information is clear enough or if your audience needs more clarification. Conversely, when you are being the listener and someone is conveying a problem or some information to you there is a way to make sure you understand them properly. Wait until they are finished and convey what you think they said back to them and ask them if you got it right. It could clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings right there on the spot. It's also important to note that one sentence can mean something completely different based on how someone else interpreted it. This can be based on cultural differences in language, body language, the tone in which you conveyed the information, and etc. As a leader and communicator, you also need to be aware that one word can have different meanings in different professions. Having someone repeat back, or having you repeat back information makes sure that the communication in that moment is as accurate as possible.

 Communication in any form is a lot like a healthcare network system that transmits data from patient bedside to the EMR. Any break in the data flow causes interruption in patient care. Any typos or if any information is not documented correctly, can cause a lot of confusion and errors in patient care. Just as documentation is important in healthcare, so is communication amongst the professionals. The hospital is a machine and communication is the oil that keeps the machine operating. If the oil gets gunked up or there is a leak, it can cause the machine to not function as it should. Whether the communication happens amongst a team, interprofessionally, or interdepartmentally within the hospital it holds the same importance. Gaps in communication and inadequate information flow can cause a lot of gunk in your machine, or cause a break in your network system. Making communication one of the highest focuses within the HTM profession and in healthcare, will help ensure that you minimize any breakdowns in the system.

Edited by: Shawn Bennett

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