Not so long ago, electronic communication was limited to voicemail and email—two groundbreaking innovations that allowed us to deliver a message quickly and efficiently without having to distribute a printed paper memo or track a colleague down for a face-to-face chat. How times have changed!
Today, the healthcare workplace uses a wide variety of electronic communication tools, including text messaging, pagers, instant computer screen messages (“chat”), calendar reminders, web conferencing, and clinical alerts that ring through to a mobile device. These tools can improve efficiency, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and reduce time spent on administrative tasks. With all of these new ways to be connected and send and receive messages, however, comes a new problem: it’s easy to become overwhelmed with a constant stream of communications.
Ideally, your employer has clear policies for sending and receiving messages in the workplace. For example, many employers have a 24-hour reply time policy for all emails that require a response. In some clinical settings, there are “zero-interruption zones” in which nurses may not stop to look at messages on a mobile device while performing high-concentration tasks, like medication preparation and administration. And it probably goes without saying that any communication that includes patient data is governed by HIPAA in terms of privacy and security—so you should always adhere to the policies your employer has in place. The following are some general best practices regarding electronic communication.
When you’re sending a message
- Always choose the best medium for the message, keeping in mind that text or chat may be fast and efficient, while email allows for more detail. And don’t forget that sometimes face-to-face interaction is the best choice for effective communication.
- Stick with good business writing style and avoid using common texting abbreviations in the workplace. (Ditto for typing in all capital letters!)
- Monitor your tone. When you’re writing quickly or texting, it’s all too easy to come across as terse, critical, or impolite. If you’re using voice-to-text functions to dictate a message, make sure you’re speaking clearly and always proofread before sending. Otherwise, you may end up with nonsense.
- Be specific! You can eliminate a back-and-forth exchange by anticipating what questions the recipient might have and pre-emptively answering them.
- When composing an email of moderate length, format it for easy readability—otherwise, recipients may scan or skip around and miss important points. Write in short paragraphs with a blank space in between, or use lists (numbered or bulleted) to keep key points organized.
- Compose emails with care, remembering that each one can be forwarded over and over again—and you never know who will ultimately see it.
- Use spell-check!
When you’re receiving a message
- Respond in a timely manner, depending on the urgency of the message received.
- Avoid the “reply all” function unless it is necessary and intentional. Otherwise, you’re adding clutter to your colleagues’ inboxes.
- Be judicious with the “forward” button, especially when an email contains a long thread that may contain data that’s not appropriate for specific people to see.
- Remember that it may be rude or inappropriate to check email or text messages on a mobile device while in a meeting or having a face-to-face conversation with another person.
- If you receive many emails and/or voicemails each day, you may need a time-management strategy. One way to deal with communication overload is to block out a set time in your calendar each day for replying to email and returning calls.
Electronic communication and mobile devices are now part of the nursing landscape. Used thoughtfully, these technologies can keep providers connected and enable real-time sharing of information in the workplace. It’s now becoming more common for providers to communicate with patients electronically as well—which clearly comes with data security and privacy challenges.
All of this is one aspect of nursing informatics, a hot career field that integrates nursing practice with computer science. If you’re a tech-savvy nurse, have you ever considered specializing in informatics? Healthcare is in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.