Synchronous and asynchronous are terms used to describe when and how individuals communicate. The critical difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication is that synchronous communications are scheduled, real-time interactions. Asynchronous communications happen independently and don’t need scheduling.
This article explores the differences between each and how they can be utilized in a healthcare context.
Synchronous communications happen in real-time between two or more people. Examples of synchronous communications include in-person meetings, videoconferencing, phone calls, or other types of interactions where an immediate response is expected.
In a health care context, this face-to-face time is precious and can be hard to schedule. Unless seeking acute care at an emergency department or urgent care facility, it is not easy to have same-day synchronous communications with a care provider. Telehealth live video appointments are also considered synchronous.
Alternatively, asynchronous communications are interactions without real-time conversation. The replies to asynchronous messages are delayed and happen on the participants’ schedules. Email, texting, patient portal messaging, video libraries, or other online wikis are considered asynchronous communications.
Asynchronous communications are becoming more popular among patients and healthcare providers. The advent of patient portals with secure messaging capabilities allows for non-urgent communications to be sent securely and answered on time.
Which is better for healthcare communications?
It depends on the context. Synchronous communications are always better for urgent scenarios. If a sick child exhibits flu-like symptoms, it makes sense to use synchronous communication channels to contact their pediatrician.
However, asynchronous communications are an excellent option for most administrative healthcare interactions. Questions about billing, appointment scheduling, referrals, prescription refills, etc., are not urgent and most often do not require a face-to-face interaction.
Some non-urgent medical questions can also be addressed through asynchronous communications. For example, if a patient has a rash or insect bite, they can upload an image of the rash to a patient portal where a clinician can diagnose and recommend a treatment remotely. Of course, the question may not be answered immediately, but it could be a good option for diagnosing and treating minor skin conditions and irritations.
Improving the Patient and Clinician Experience
In fact, cutting down the number of synchronous communications can help improve both the clinician and patient experience. On the clinician’s side, constant interruptions by phone calls or live video chats can be detrimental to productivity and increase stress. By encouraging asynchronous communications for non-critical issues, clinicians can block off time to respond to messages. They can also take time to deliver thorough responses instead of rushing or being unprepared for conversations.
From the patient’s perspective, asynchronous communication can often offer a better experience. Almost everyone has called their doctor’s office and been put on hold for extended periods. It is frustrating, can take a lot of time out of a workday, and often doesn’t deliver an adequate response. Instead, patients can send a message and be confident that it will be addressed by the right staff member promptly. Asynchronous communications also tend to be more transparent. Patients can reference messages later because they are logged in chat portals or email chains.
Organizations should look at ways to incorporate more asynchronous communications into their workflows. Relieving the administrative burden on staff and freeing up phone lines helps improve employee satisfaction and allows them to focus on what matters- providing a high quality of patient care.