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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Understanding communication networks in the emergency department

Nerida Creswick1*, Johanna I Westbrook1 and Jeffrey Braithwaite2

Author Affiliations

1 Health Informatics Research and Evaluation Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia

2 Centre for Clinical Governance Research, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:247  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-247

Published: 31 December 2009

Abstract

Background

Emergency departments (EDs) are high pressure health care settings involving complex interactions between staff members in providing and organising patient care. Without good communication and cooperation amongst members of the ED team, quality of care is at risk. This study examined the problem-solving, medication advice-seeking and socialising networks of staff working in an Australian hospital ED.

Methods

A social network survey (Response Rate = 94%) was administered to all ED staff (n = 109) including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, administrative staff and ward assistants. Analysis of the network characteristics was carried out by applying measures of density (the extent participants are concentrated), connectedness (how related they are), isolates (how segregated), degree centrality (who has most connections measured in two ways, in-degree, the number of ties directed to an individual and out-degree, the number of ties directed from an individual), betweenness centrality (who is important or powerful), degree of separation (how many ties lie between people) and reciprocity (how bi-directional are interactions).

Results

In all three networks, individuals were more closely connected to colleagues from within their respective professional groups. The problem-solving network was the most densely connected network, followed by the medication advice network, and the loosely connected socialising network. ED staff relied on each other for help to solve work-related problems, but some senior doctors, some junior doctors and a senior nurse were important sources of medication advice for their ED colleagues.

Conclusions

Network analyses provide useful ways to assess social structures in clinical settings by allowing us to understand how ED staff relate within their social and professional structures. This can provide insights of potential benefit to ED staff, their leaders, policymakers and researchers.