March 26, 1998

Recently, Dr. Biemann Othersen, medical director for professional staff, invited two communications experts to visit MUSC. The purpose of their visit was to talk with diverse groups throughout the Medical Center to share ideas and advice on how to improve communication. They also gave a presentation at the weekly communications meeting. Among other things, it was emphasized that two important skills we should develop include listening and relationship building. Listed below are the “top ten” communications problems, according to the experts, that we should focus upon.

You may recall that in a Currents newsletter two months ago, I mentioned we are ending the cycle for the strategic plan adopted in 1993. Most recently, the MUSC Board of Trustees authorized our use of the Deloitte and Touche consulting firm for analysis and guidance for preparation of a new strategic plan. The lead consultant will be Mr. Merlin Olsen. He has an excellent track record with us in developing our previous strategic plan. The process for developing the strategic plan will include input from clinicians and other leaders over the next several months. We hope that our board will ultimately approve the new five-year strategic plan by the end of the summer.

Most recently, I was pleased to receive an encouraging patient satisfaction survey report compiled by The Picker Institute in cooperation with the University HealthSystem Consortium. This report indicates we have consistently higher levels of patient satisfaction compared to peer academic health centers, and levels of satisfaction comparable to those of community hospitals. While the report is encouraging, we must continue to place a high priority on customer service and focus on areas where weaknesses or problems are indicated. The report is currently being critiqued and more details will be presented in the near future.

Finally, a series of compliance workshops were recently conducted for all Medical Center managers. Managers were asked to follow through with educational sessions for all employees by May 1, 1998. Our goal is to ensure everyone is familiar with our compliance policy and reporting mechanisms. Everyone’s cooperation in this educational exercise is needed.

W. Stuart Smith Interim Vice President for Clinical Operations Interim CEO, MUSC Medical Center


  • In an effort to improve shuttle service from the Medical Center to parking areas, an extra departure time has been added to the evening schedule. Beginning March 30, the shuttle will depart from the Administration Building at 7:20 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 7:35 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 7:55 p.m. and 8 p.m. The change came about after several nurses noted the wait for staff members coming off of a 12-hour shift was sometimes as long as 15 minutes—and that feels like a lot longer after 12 hours on the job! Thanks go to University Transportation for being responsive to requests.

Communication: The Art of Sharing Information

  • Eva M. McMahan, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Speech Communication at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and Gail W. McGee, Ph.D., professor, Department of Health Services Administration and Department of Management at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, gave the management team a presentation on improving communication in health care organizations.
  • Good communication is vital in a “high stakes” business such as health care. Crossed messages or incorrect information does more than cause confusion and frustration for staff members—it can affect the care of patients.
  • McMahan and McGee identified the “top ten” communication problems described below:

10. Information overload. We receive too much information—from e-mail, by phone, in meetings and through newsletters (like the one you are reading). Sorting out what’s important to us becomes a challenge. Managers can help by deciding who needs what information.

9. Managers have difficulty getting feedback from employees. Managers need to learn how to get feedback in a nonthreatening way, and employees need to feel confident (and care enough) to speak up and give ideas.

8. Employees have trouble getting answers from their superiors. Communication must work both ways.

7. Meetings are poorly planned or seemingly needless. If there is no “burning issue,” question the need for a meeting. Establish a goal for the meeting. Set an agenda to keep things moving.

6. People feel they are spinning their wheels in meetings, not getting anything done. See number seven.

5. Employees are surprised by sudden, unexpected events. Enough said!

4. Misunderstandings develop between people. It can help to repeat back to a person what you thought you heard. That gives each person a chance to clarify information and to correct mistaken messages from the start. The number one goal of communication is to be clear in your message. Developing listening skills also is a must.

3. There is not enough face-to-face communication. People still value speaking in person, even though e-mail or voice mail may be more convenient at times.

2. Failure to receive needed information in time. Managers need to make sure decisions are made with thought given to how they will affect employees—especially in allowing enough time to put in place what’s needed.

1. Failure to receive needed information at all.

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