Chris McCune, MSN, RN, SCRN

Bridging the Communication Gap Between the Emergency Department and Radiologist

The common adage of a bustling and stressful emergency room is resoundingly accurate. Fraught with waiting rooms capaciously full of the ill and injured, under resourced and overworked staff members, incessant alarm bells and chimes, and an endless stream of patients akin to the analogy of digging a hole at the beach only to be filled in again by crashing waves. This predictable occurrence is a seemingly inevitable reality. For the clinical staff who deliver patient care, expectations from their organization and clientele similarly center around providing excellent care as well as excellent service. The capabilities of the individuals performing these tasks are far-extended as they work within the strenuous confines of delivering high quality patient care within definitive triage time windows for the complex pathophysiologies of an increasingly aging and sicker population while meeting the persistent demands of an impatient patient population.

Navigating these delicate workflows requires precise and efficient communication between the multidisciplinary care teams as well as effective tools to facilitate these efforts. Current communication methods include but certainly not limited to telephone calls, text messages, emails, secure chat tools, internal messaging applications, face to face, and when all else fails, shouting down the hallway to one another. Communication between medical providers, specifically emergency physicians and Radiologists, drive clinical decisions that facilitate the coordination of the patient journey from arrival to diagnostic imaging to eventual admission or discharge. Interruptions in this communication may cause delays in critical decision-making potentially resulting in detrimental outcomes such as treatment delays or delays in discharge times thereby impacting both patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Compartmentalization of the care teams within the emergency room environment is also an important factor impacting the ability of these teams to effectively communicate. Oftentimes the ED care teams and Radiologists are working in separate care areas requiring  multiple phone calls in order to locate the appropriate clinician and discuss interpretations and patient findings. Due to the distances between providers, it is not uncommon for phone calls to be misdirected to the wrong workstations or missed altogether. This inability to efficiently navigate the Radiology care area and correctly reach the appropriate reader leads to unnecessary interruptions, wasted time, and an unsatisfactory patient experience.

As a result, care teams endlessly search for tools to better optimize these workflows – enhancing communication amongst team members, reducing the time to complete tasks, as well as working to eliminate unnecessary  tasks themselves. Many systems are turning to next generation digital solutions to overcome these challenges. Using workflow optimization algorithms, emergency rooms can improve their efficiency and productivity; gaining more visibility to where their patients fall within the care continuum while also reducing redundancies and streamlining communications . Similarly, predictive analytics are being used more frequently to solve for the current challenges of managing patient capacity and throughput. 

By implementing effective digital and workflow automation solutions, hospitals and healthcare systems can not only increase their confidence in managing these complex issues, but show conclusive evidence impacting targeted outcomes – decreasing length of stay and improving patient safety. When combined, these tools that aid in clinical decision support as well as coordinate patient care through enhanced communication demonstrate to be the most clinically validated and effective solutions.

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Chris McCune, MSN, RN, SCRN