Inadequate and fragmented communication between physicians and nurses can lead to unwelcome events for the hospitalized patient and clinicians. Missing orders, medication errors, patient misidentification, and lack of physician awareness of significant changes in patient status are just some examples of how deficits in formal communication can affect health outcomes during acute stays.
A 2000 Institute of Medicine report showed that bad systems, not bad people, account for the majority of errors and injuries caused by complexity, professional fragmentation, and barriers in communication. Their recommendation was to train physicians, nurses, and other professionals in teamwork.1,2 However, as Milisa Manojlovich, PhD, RN, found, there are significant differences in how physicians and nurses perceive collaboration and communication.3
Nurse-physician rounding was historically standard for patient care during hospitalization. When physicians split time between inpatient and outpatient care, nurses had to maximize their time to collaborate and communicate with physicians whenever the physicians left their outpatient offices to come and round on their patients. Today most inpatient care is delivered by hospitalists on a 24-hour basis. This continuous availability of physicians reduces the perceived need to have joint rounds.
However, health care teams in acute care facilities now face higher and sicker patient volumes, different productivity models and demands, new compliance standards, changing work flows, and increased complexity of treatment and management of patients. This has led to gaps in timely communication and partnership.4-6 Erosion of the traditional nurse-physician relationships affects the quality of patient care, the patient’s experience, and patient safety.8-10 Poor communication among health care team members is one of the most common causes of patient care errors.4 Poor nurse-physician communication can also lead to medical errors, poor outcomes caused by lack of coordination within the treatment team, increased use of unnecessary resources with inefficiency, and increases in the complexity of communication among team members, and time wastage.5,7,11 All these lead to poor work flows and directly affect patient safety.7
At Lee Health System in Lee County, Fla., we saw an opportunity in this changing health care environment to promote nurse-physician rounding. We created a structured, standardized process for morning rounding and engaged unit clerks, nursing leadership, and hospitalist service line leaders. We envisioned improvement of the patient experience, nurse-physician relationship, quality of care, the discharge planning process, and efficiency, as well as decreasing length of stay, improving communication, and bringing the patient and the treatment team closer, as demonstrated by Bradley Monash, MD, et al.12
Some data suggest that patient-centered bedside rounds on hospitalized patients have no effect on patient perceptions or their satisfaction with care.13 However, we felt that collaboration among a multidisciplinary team would help us achieve better outcomes. For example, our patients would perceive the care team (MD-RN) as a cohesive unit, and in turn gain trust in the members of the treatment team, as found by Nathalie McIntosh, PhD, et al and by Jason Ramirez, MD.7,16 Our vision was to empower nurses to be advocates for patients and their family members as they navigated their acute care admission. Nurses could also support physicians by communicating the physicians’ care plans to families and patients. After rounding with the physician, the nurse would be part of the decision-making process and care planning.17
Every rounding session had discharge planning and hospital stay expectations that were shared with the patient and nurse, who could then partner with case managers and social workers, which would streamline and reduce length of stay.14 We hoped rounding would also decrease the number of nurse pages to clarify or question orders. This would, in turn, improve daily work flow for the physicians and the nursing team with improvements in employee satisfaction scores.15 A study also has demonstrated a reduction in readmission rates from nurse-physician rounding.19
A disconnect in communication and trust between physicians and the nursing staff was reflected in low patient experience scores and perceived quality of care received during in-hospital stay. Gwendolyn Lancaster, EdD, MSN, RN, CCRN, et al, as well as a Joint Commission report, demonstrated how a lack of communication and poor team dynamics can translate to poor patient experience and be a major cause for sentinel events.6,20 Artificial, forced hierarchies and role perception among health care team members led to frustration, hostility, and distrust, which compromises quality and patient safety.1
One of our biggest challenges when we started this project was explaining the “Why” to the hospitalist group and nursing staff. Physicians were used to being the dominant partner in the team. Partnering with and engaging nurses in shared decision making and care planning was a seismic shift in culture and work flow within the care team. Early gains helped skeptical team members begin to understand the value in nurse-physician rounding. Near universal adoption of the rounding process at Lee Health has caused improvements in the working relationship and trust among the health care professionals. We have seen improvements in utilization management, as well as appropriateness and timeliness of resource use, because of better communication and understanding of care plans by nursing and physicians. Collaboration with specialists and alignment in care planning are other gains. Hospitalists and nurses are both very satisfied with the decrease in the number of pages during the day, and this has lowered stressors on health care teams.