Is Poor Communication Slowing Your VA Process?

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Tips and  tools to enhance your VA communications and productivity

By Wanda-Dupree Lane,  RN, BSHA, MaED, Clinical VA Coordinator, The Regional Medical Center, Memphis, TN

Effective communication is crucial to the value analysis process. Though vital, it presents a stumbling block for many value analysis programs. Assessing the effectiveness of your team’s communication is the first step in improving processes and enhancing productivity. Though communication challenges vary by team, I have found that improvement can be simple if you start with asking good questions.

Start with asking good questions

Begin by evaluating your team’s communication skills using self-assessment, productivity benchmarking, and customer feedback. The first step is polling your staff members and stakeholders with a brief questionnaire. Include clinicians, physicians, materials management staff, embedded vendors, support staff, and the executive team in this process. Customize according to your facility needs, but sample questions could include:

· Do you understand the Value Analysis process?

· How satisfied are you with the current Value Analysis process?

· Do you feel informed regarding product requests and status updates?

· How could this process be improved?

· What do you most like and dislike about the current process?

Analyze the responses looking for patterns. Repetitive comments or criticisms are the best indicators of gaps in your process. An informal survey of VA professionals revealed the primary repetitive complaints from staff members were time lapse between product request and availability, and communication regarding progress during conversion. Both of these complaints relate to ineffective communication, though only one specifically states this. The first issue regarding the timeframe between request and availability can be addressed by updating the requestor during the process. Simple communication reassures the requestor that they are valued and heard.

Productivity Benchmarking

The next step is productivity benchmarking. Begin with a simple tracking tool to note the amount of time used each day in repetitive communication. For example, do you repeat the same information to several departments or are you repeatedly requesting information from vendors or staff?  If so, you are losing valuable time and productivity. A simple way to track this time is to estimate in minutes the time used for verbal requests by phone, crafting email requests for information, and unscheduled face-to-face conversations. Create a spreadsheet (figure 1) using 5, 10, 15, and 30 minutes blocks of time. Assign each repetitive communication task a time value. Using the spreadsheet, track each task for a minimum of one week.

Do this exercise objectively and thoroughly for the pre-determined time-frame. One suggestion is to do this exercise during the week preceding or following your value analysis meeting. If you want more detail regarding your communication gaps, merely be specific on your tracking sheet. Label each column with specific information such as, “vendor request” or “clinician question.” This spreadsheet will allow you to see patterns of behavior and make communication gaps visible fairly quickly.

A side note is that by tracking this lost time, you can quantify your productive time or request better communication tools. 

Figure 1: Value Analysis Productivity Benchmark Spreadsheet



5 minutes

 10 minutes

15 minutes

30 minutes

Email notification\clarification





Phone (in-house) notification\clarification





Phone (vendor) notification\clarification





Unscheduled face time





Finally, if you find that you receive complaints regarding a lack of information or if you are frequently “putting out fires” that could have been prevented by effective communication, these tips will help you.

The next consideration is perception. Like perspective, perception is unique to the individual colored by life experience, age, temperament, and other influencing factors. Perception is reality with regard to communication. Proven repeatedly in diversity classrooms and training sessions across the country, perception is a deciding factor influencing workplace communication. When information is supplied frequently and objectively, trust develops and productivity is enhanced. Conversely, if a person perceives that their request is ignored, delayed or devalued, it will reflect poorly on your VA process. The key to avoiding such issues is to perfect your communication process, focusing on transparency and objectivity.

The final consideration is the person’s position of power. When communicating in a group, sensitivity to each person’s position invites candor and objective feedback. For example, if your meeting includes stakeholders from the clinical and managerial staff, director level and executive team, acknowledge that the staff members may feel uncomfortable or intimidated when speaking out. It is imperative that your meeting be considered a safe environment for frank discussion. Each opinion must be acknowledged and valued to enhance communication. To foster this sense of safety, a contract may be drafted stating that this is a decision-making group and each team member will be asked to give frank opinions from a unique perspective. Assure them that they are valued and chosen because they have expertise in their area. Consider conflict a benefit, as it fosters discussion and information-sharing when appropriate and respectful. 

Communication toolkit

The most valuable tool for improving communication is the template. Develop templates like figure 2 for communication tasks based on the feedback from your surveys and productivity spreadsheets. If one of the survey items reveals an information gap regarding time between request and availability, develop an email template with specific information included and set a reminder to inform the requestor bi-weekly.

Note:  The second installment of this two-part series will be published in the Fall Issue of our HVAM magazine.

Wanda-Dupree Lane is the Value Analysis Coordinator at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, TN. Wanda has been a registered nurse for 26 years, vendor representative for five years, and business owner for several years. During that time, Wanda has watched healthcare perceptions and actions change with a unique perspective. In her current position, Wanda has enjoyed watching her hospital’s Value Analysis program grow and develop. The program continues to evolve, seeking new and innovative ways to meet customers’ needs and provide the best possible care in the most fiscally responsible manner. You can contact Wanda with your questions or comments at, or call her at 901-545-8662.

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