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As time goes by, we are continuing to learn more about the importance of good patient and family member communication in the healthcare environment. In the book, “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age” by Robert M. Wachter, the future of healthcare is described as a place where, “(p)atients and their families will be able to review their clinicians’ notes, test results, and treatment recommendations, either on the big screen or on a hospital-issued tablet computer.” We’re finding that this vision of the future is not too far off.

It is quickly becoming a standard in healthcare to bridge the gap between the patient’s care and the patients themselves, as well as their loved ones. The Journal of Hospital Medicine featured an article entitled “Patient Whiteboards as a Communication Tool in the Hospital Setting: A Survey of Practices and Recommendations.” It points out that, “(c)ommunication failures are a frequent cause of adverse events; the Joint Commission (TJC) reports that such failures contributed to 65% of reported sentinel events.

As suggested in the article, patient whiteboards have played an important role in improving communication regarding the patient’s care to both the patient and their families. One way the whiteboards have been used in this respect is to communicate the patient’s mobility and fall risk. For example, if it is made clear on the whiteboard that the patient should not get out of their bed, they will be more likely to stay in bed, either of their own accord or by their families’ recommendation.

While the whiteboards have been extremely beneficial, they are not without challenges. Listed below are three reasons why your patient may not care about what is on the whiteboard.

1. Poor handwriting
Handwriting is not a constant; and nurses and physicians that are in a hurry will quickly write the necessary information on the whiteboard. The result? Information that is very difficult to read in even the best of circumstances, let alone for a patient who may be without their glasses and potentially on medication.

2. Use of Medical Acronyms and Terminology
In the medical profession, there is a lot to say. To make the job more efficient, professionals often resort to using acronyms to communicate faster. We see this across many industries; everyone has a ‘language’ of their own. Walk into any hospital room today and you’ll see things like ‘OOB’ or ‘NPO’ written on the whiteboard. Likewise, terminology that only clinicians can understand also confuses the patients. Do your  whiteboards say things like “Ambulate – Non-Ambulatory”? To us, that is very informative, but if we are trying to prevent falls, and want to involve the patient and their family in their own care,  we cannot expect patients to understand these acronyms and medical terminology and then apply them to their care plan. This goes beyond not understanding one line of information. When a patient sees something that they do not understand, they tend to lose focus of the entire medium, losing the value of the whiteboard altogether.

3. Incomplete Information
In continuation with the poor handwriting skills a rushed RN or CNA may have, they may be in such a hurry that they fail to fill out some of the information altogether. One physician said that “(h)aving providers intermittently write on whiteboards should not be considered a substitute for communication. In fact, this would likely only further display our lack of cohesive communication to patients and families*.

Because the patients do not understand what is on the whiteboards, they build a disconnect between them and the whiteboard, thus HCAHPS scores suffer, particularly nurse communication. When the patients feel that communication suffers, the continuum of care that healthcare organizations are struggling so hard to establish starts to dissolve, causing entropy throughout the system.

There is hope. As described in the book “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age,” there will eventually be a video screen in every hospital room. This will be used as a communication portal, not only for the doctors to speak to the patients and their families; it will also be a digital communication device similar to the patient whiteboard. MEDI+SIGN ® created a connected healthcare platform that includes a digital patient room whiteboard, digital door display and digital nurse’s station display. Similar to Wachter’s vision of the future, MEDI+SIGN connects to the hospital’s existing systems, including the electronic health records (EHRs), nurse call, staff assignment, smart beds and other systems, to display up-to-the-minute information to the patient. This is done in a complete manner with clean text, and all acronyms automatically translated so that the patient is involved in their coordination of care. As we can see from the issues outlined above, the need for digital whiteboards is continually increasing.

For more information on MEDI+SIGN digital patient whiteboard solutions, please contact us at

* Patient Whiteboards as a Communication Tool in the Hospital Setting: A Survey of Practices and Recommendations