As a child I wrote. As a teen, I wrote (A lot. Long story.) As an adult, I write just occasionally.

Most of my writing now is for the purpose of clear communication, including best practices for McKnight’s. But I also write for the proverbial “paper trail” that’s required in order to ensure competent and excellent care for those we’re charged with.

I’m an emailer. If I want a group of coworkers or family to know something, I email to the group. Texting works too, but doesn’t endure and can be considered HIPAA-risky. I pull important emails into a virtual folder where they’re never deleted until I decide it’s time.

Is this a little OCD? Maybe. Does it work? It does. Does it make me a giant pain and do I hear “There she goes emailing again?” Yep. Do I care? Nope.

When you communicate on paper (or email) that missive is retrievable and re-sendable as necessary. The care we deliver, whether it’s a concern that must be addressed or merely notification that a patient is being sent to the hospital or just returned and has new test results, revolves around our ability to communicate the news. The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough.

The issues we have with written/typed communication is the inadequacy of some of our coworkers to understand and use the easiest option for communication. Staff members (much younger than I) who went to college and have used electronic methods for communication throughout high school and college are frequently unable to compose a comprehensible and legible email, frequently don’t know how to attach a document to an email, and frequently “forget” to read their emails. I even had a coworker who shut down her email after reading each one.

In order to focus on our patients’ care and ensure adequate and progressive care that they need, we need to communicate. Here’s how:

  1. Require each person who emails or documents to re-read their message and their documentation to ensure clarity. It’s not acceptable to say “…dates of service were 9-1-18 to 10-1-19.” It’s not ok to say “…the patient was excepted by long-term care…” (One of those shows some kind of crystal ball-ery where the dates are in the future. One of those confuses “excepted” for “accepted” and the meaning is contradictory.)
  2. Punctuation is important. You’ve probably seen “Let’s eat Grandma” as opposed to “Let’s eat, Grandma.” The same goes for an email I received just today that says “…hoping we can get him home because before her fall 3 weeks ago is was totally independent they said.” Because, what?
  3. You don’t have to read Dreyer’s English (I did) by Benjamin Dreyer to know that quotation marks are not meant to be for emphasis. When you write that the “Patient will discharge to ‘home’ on Thursday,” what are you trying to say? This can come across as that “home” is a mystical concept.
  4. It’s HIPAA, not HIPPA.
  5. Before you type “would of,” “could of,” or “should of”, remember that the correct verb is “should have.” Contracted it is “should’ve.”

I would emphasize that emails are good. ALL emails are good because communication is good, but some could be clearer and communicate more thoroughly and competently what you want to say.

Read an email before you send it. Read your documentation before you sign it. Make sure it makes sense. And make sure it makes sense to everyone reading.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD is the Regional Director of Therapy Operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.