Previous research suggests that multidisciplinary team communication networks enhance knowledge exchange, learning, and quality of care in health organizations. However, little is known about team members’ reliance on face-to-face versus electronic-based communication networks for information and knowledge exchange.
The aim of the study was to describe patterns of face-to-face versus electronic-based communication networks in a multidisciplinary team and to explore the relationships between team communication networks and performance, measured as promptness of treatment implementation.
We collected data on work-based communication among members of a multidisciplinary tumor board (MDT) in a large Italian research hospital. A social network survey was administered in 2016 to all board members to gather network data on face-to-face interaction and the use of electronically based communication channels (e-mail, text messages, and WhatsApp) for sharing clinical knowledge. Twenty physicians (71%) completed the survey. Archival data were accessed to obtain detailed information about 222 clinical cases discussed over a 1-year period during weekly MDT meetings. Minutes of board meetings were used to link all discussed cases to team members. We used the multiple regression quadratic assignment procedure (MR-QAP) to study associations between team member characteristics and communication networks. Negative binomial regression was employed to test relationships between team communication networks and performance.
MDT members relied on different communication channels for knowledge sharing. The geographical proximity of team members positively predicted the frequency of face-to-face interaction. Physicians’ seniority was related to the use of WhatsApp as a communication channel; greater interaction of this type was observed between team members of different seniority. Performance was related positively to face-to-face communication networks but negatively to communication via WhatsApp.
Although team communication networks are important for knowledge exchange, health administrators must pay attention to the increasing propensity of team members to rely on electronic-based communication. The use of these easy-to-use tools can hinder the quality of group discussion and debate.