Efficient communication between clinicians has long been a challenge. With new digital solutions, and changes driven by covid, could that finally be changing?

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There is something about his foundation year as a doctor that Christian Warner does not like to think about – the amount of time he has spent on the phone, wrestling with needing to go through a central switchboard to try and reach the colleague he needs to speak to.

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“There’s nothing worse than being tied to a phone, because you can’t do anything else [while you wait],” says Dr Warner, an academic foundation doctor currently at Manchester University Foundation Trust.

“I can’t bear to think how many hours I’ve wasted over this 12 months of being a doctor, being on hold or making phone calls.”

In an age of near-ubiquitous smartphone ownership – of being able in many situations to get hold of anyone, anywhere in the world, near-instantly – it is a jarring anomaly; a reminder of how much further there is to go in supporting effective communication between clinicians.

The fax machine and pager of course still loom alongside the switchboard, and the overall result is often that important information about patients and organisation of clinical tasks moves slowly and sometimes falls between gaps. Care quality and financial efficiency both of course suffer in turn.

“We struggle to communicate ideas rapidly, efficiently and securely – in a way that’s open but confidential,” argues Dan Trushell-Pottinger, specialist registrar in respiratory medicine at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals FT.

“The traditional handover communication between shifts is still paper in a lot of places. And, yes, at my trust we have a technological solution [an electronic patient record]. But still you go to those meetings and everybody has a piece of paper in their hand, because there are some things that are difficult to communicate in a brief message or the system doesn’t have functionality that serves that specific purpose.”

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