Overcoming challenges faced by clinical coordinators in healthcare education

Clinical coordinators face numerous challenges in their demanding roles. Tasked with facilitating...

Clinical coordinators face numerous challenges in their demanding roles. Tasked with facilitating communication between students, faculty, and the externship site, their daily tasks often involve inefficient means of communication that leave ample room for error and rework.  

Think about the types of challenges clinical coordinators are needing to overcome to do their job successfully:

  • Coordinators field and respond to hundreds of emails weekly from various stakeholders. According to a McKinsey study from 2012, the average worker responds to email for 2.6 hours of their workday. However, clinical coordinators likely spend even more time during the academic semester.
  • One of the major challenges they encounter is coordinating multiple parties. With all these different stakeholders reaching out to coordinators, they often will find themselves simply tracking down old correspondences and various document versions to piece together a comprehensive overview of the externship’s progress.
  • Data security is another concern for coordinators. They handle sensitive information, and it is crucial for them to ensure its confidentiality. Email is hardly the best vehicle for that – yet it is the pervasive way information is passed. 
  • Credentialing can be a nightmare. Coordinators find themselves toggling between emails and folders or software to ensure data is accurate. 
  • Coordinators face documentation related challenges due to the inherent risks of missed attachments when relying solely on email communication. 

Without the right tools or resources to help overcome these obstacles, clinical coordinators find themselves in a difficult position, as they bear a significant amount of responsibility in facilitating and enhancing the student and site experience. 

In the following section, we will delve into effective strategies that you can implement to alleviate the challenges faced by clinical coordinators, ultimately streamlining their workload and enhancing their ability to facilitate a seamless student and site experience.

Email overload bogs down clinical coordinators

Email overload can be a significant communication challenge for clinical coordinators. The shear volume of it from having to keep up with student, faculty, and multiple clinical sites can easily overwhelm even the most organized of coordinators.

Consider the wide range of communications that clinical coordinators handle on a daily basis. From placement details, scheduling, student progress, and even mundane administrative tasks. Essentially, the coordinator often manages the entire lifecycle of an externship through their email inbox.  

This makes prioritizing difficult. Time sensitivity adds another layer of complication to the process as well. Updates to placements, schedule changes, or student performance issues need to be dealt with in a timely fashion. Coordinators having to deal with massive influxes of emails creates risk and invariably delays the coordination process.

How relying on email impacts health science programs

The ripple effect of these challenges can have a significant impact on students, sites, and the overall reputation of the university program. 

Furthermore, information loss becomes an unavoidable consequence when clinical coordinators are overwhelmed with email overload. Despite their best efforts, important messages and attachments may go unnoticed, unaddressed, or mishandled. This not only puts a strain on the productivity of coordinators but also hampers the overall efficiency of the health science program. 

Inevitably, this boils down to disparate and inefficient systems creating a subpar experience.

Addressing email overload for clinical coordinators

Using tools like CORE’s ELMS platform can help tremendously by addressing the email overload challenges for clinical coordinators. The upcoming release of the ELMS Contract Management module will facilitate real-time collaboration and reduce the need for email for routine communication and updates.

But in the absence of a software solution, you can try to implement internal processes to limit the sprawl of email for clinical coordinators and make receipt and response more effective.

The first is updating communication protocols. Help and train coordinators to use folders and filters effectively in order to organize email communication effectively. You can use email folder trees to enact structures around Site - Year - Semester - Preceptor in order to stay as organized as possible regarding student scheduling and progress. 

This, of course, doesn’t help with another major challenge for clinical coordinators – data security concerns.

Data security concerns

Data security concerns in the context of clinical coordination revolve around safeguarding sensitive information. 

Healthcare data is subject to a complex web of regulatory standards and compliance requirements. Clinical coordinators must navigate these regulations, including HIPAA, to ensure that data security measures meet the industry's stringent standards. 

Failure to comply not only risks legal consequences but also undermines the trust that patients and healthcare providers place in the confidentiality and security of their information.

Cybersecurity threats

The healthcare sector is an attractive target for cybercriminals due to the valuable nature of medical data. And university programs which are affiliated with healthcare sites are attractive targets. Clinical coordinators face the constant threat of cybersecurity attacks, including ransomware, phishing, and other malicious activities. A successful breach can lead to data loss, disruption of services, and potential financial losses, emphasizing the need for robust cybersecurity measures.

Part of the risk of email overreliance is that it makes coordinators more susceptible to phishing attacks via email to enable cybercriminals to access sensitive records and use them. Over 385 million patient records have been hacked into over the last 14 years. Clinical coordinators are easy targets for these kinds of attacks because of the indirect nature of relations they can have with students, sites, and preceptors.

Minimizing clinical coordinators data security risk

Human error remains a significant factor in data security breaches. Continuous ongoing training and awareness programs - especially being aware of the signs of phishing attacks if email is going to remain a major communication medium - is a must for clinical coordinators.

Creating a culture of data security awareness is essential to minimize the likelihood of unintentional breaches. This is an effort spearheaded by IT departments.

Clinical coordination often involves the integration of various systems and platforms to manage data efficiently. The challenge lies in ensuring that these systems are securely interconnected. Incompatibility or vulnerabilities in one system can pose a risk to the entire network, underscoring the importance of comprehensive security protocols and regular system audits.

This is why email tends to be such a huge risk in maintaining good cybersecurity and why clinical coordinators handling large volumes of email create more risk for an organization's cybersecurity posture. The more controls you can put in place - like using an experiential and clinical learning management platform with SOC2 type II certification - the less of a risk communications pose to creating a data breach.

Documentation and credentials get lost too easily

Documentation issues in clinical coordination come through managing and maintaining accurate records, paperwork, and essential documentation throughout the coordination process. These challenges can significantly impact the efficiency of clinical placements and the overall quality of healthcare education. 

Clinical coordinators often grapple with a substantial paperwork burden, requiring them to handle various forms, schedules, agreements, evaluations, and other documentation related to student placements. This means lots of file storage challenges, keeping track of important documents passing via email, and having to keep organized paper filing systems and procedures in order to make sure students are fairly and accurately evaluated over the course of their experience.

Even worse is the lack of interoperability of technology solutions that may be used by stakeholders. 

The sheer volume of paperwork can lead to administrative strain, impacting the time and effort available for other critical coordination tasks. Managing this paperwork burden efficiently is essential for maintaining the smooth flow of clinical placements.

Accurate and comprehensive record-keeping is vital for ensuring transparency, accountability, and compliance in clinical coordination. Coordinators face challenges in organizing and maintaining records for students, faculty, and clinical sites. 

Human error in record-keeping can result in misplaced or incomplete documentation, hindering the ability to track student progress, evaluate performance, and address any issues that may arise during clinical placements.

Addressing documentation issues involves implementing streamlined processes, leveraging technology for efficient record-keeping, and providing adequate training to clinical coordinators. Improving documentation practices is crucial for enhancing the overall effectiveness of clinical coordination, reducing administrative burdens, and ensuring that all stakeholders have access to accurate and up-to-date information.

But how do you go about addressing issues with documentation? Creating systems around categorizing emails or documenting files can create expected outcomes when certain types of communications come in, but it still involves an intense training and verification process to make sure communications are handled the same across multiple coordinators with multiple sites and a large student body.

Ensuring compliance with credentials

Credential challenges in clinical coordination involve ensuring that students and instructors possess the necessary qualifications, certifications, and licenses for their roles in healthcare settings. The coordination process requires meticulous attention to credentialing to guarantee patient safety, compliance with regulations, and the overall effectiveness of clinical placements. 

Challenges in credentialing can arise from various factors:

Credentialing processes must adhere to stringent healthcare regulations and standards. Clinical coordinators face the challenge of ensuring that students and faculty members meet all necessary compliance requirements, including educational qualifications, background checks, immunizations, and professional certifications. Navigating these complex compliance landscapes demands careful oversight to prevent placement complications and regulatory violations.

Coordinators encounter challenges in efficiently tracking and verifying the credentials of students and faculty across diverse clinical sites. This includes confirming that licenses and certifications are current, monitoring ongoing education requirements, and validating any specialized training necessary for specific placements. The need for accurate and up-to-date credential information is crucial to guarantee the competence and qualification of individuals participating in clinical experiences.

Credential challenges in clinical coordination revolve around maintaining compliance with healthcare regulations, ensuring the verification of qualifications, and efficiently tracking the credentials of students and faculty. Overcoming these challenges is essential for upholding the standards of patient care, promoting a safe learning environment, and facilitating smooth clinical placements.

Coordination breakdowns happen often, too

Coordination with multiple parties in clinical settings involves several key stakeholders and breakdowns in communication can occur due to various reasons. And they can happen often.

Coordinating clinical schedules among students, faculty, and clinical sites is challenging, even with an ideal set of tools at your disposal. Conflicts may arise due to differing availability, unexpected events, or changes in the clinical site's schedule. Misunderstandings about placement details, expectations, or scheduling can disrupt the coordination process.

Incomplete or inaccurate information provided by any party can also lead to confusion. Missing details about a student's requirements, site preferences, or faculty instructions could result in placement challenges and put student progress at risk.

Unexpected changes, such as alterations in a student's learning objectives or modifications in clinical site requirements, also can lead to coordination breakdowns. Adapting to these changes requires effective communication and flexibility from all parties involved.

Different expectations among clinical coordinators, students, faculty, and clinical sites regarding the goals, outcomes, and responsibilities of the clinical placement can result in coordination challenges.

Addressing clinical coordinator challenges 

Addressing top clinical coordinator challenges usually amounts to one or more of these strategies being implemented:

  • Use centralized communication platforms and technology solutions to ensure that all stakeholders can access important information and updates. Providers like CORE Higher Education Group offer platforms and modules that create a streamlined process for stakeholder communication, file storage, and progress tracking.
  • Schedule regular check-ins or meetings to address concerns, provide updates, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. These can work to reinforce processes and systems in place, but ultimately, you rely on disparate systems and personal work preferences here, which can create very different experiences for preceptors and students depending on the coordinator.
  • Implement standardized documentation protocols to minimize the risk of incomplete or inaccurate information. Again, these work well, but you rely on human error and execution to keep it consistent. This can have a lot of variance depending on the person who is administering the protocols at a given time.
  • Encourage flexibility and adaptability among all parties to respond to unexpected changes in schedules or requirements. Building such flexibility into the procedure - or even better, the software, can allow coordinators to have greater autonomy in ensuring the student experience is as seamless as possible.
  • Provide orientation sessions for students, faculty, and clinical sites to align expectations and clarify roles and responsibilities. This can work to a degree but is also difficult to enforce. Students and clinical sites have a lot of procedural expectations, and these kinds of training, while well intended, can be ephemeral for some stakeholders aside from the coordinators tasked with maintaining procedures on a daily basis.

Remember that your program is a unique one in its own right. You may have a handful or dozens of clinical site partners, preceptors, and clinical coordinators whose concerns need to be heard and addressed.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Limiting email and moving away from it, combined with digitizing record-keeping as much as possible, will undoubtedly help. But finding a proper software solution that is user-friendly for coordinators, students, faculty, and alike is a larger undertaking no matter what. 

Ensuring features exist to address clinical coordinator concerns is one of many things to assess when evaluating such options and making a decision that will affect several stakeholders across the entire university.

CORE Higher Education Group


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