JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (June 10, 2015) -- Four junior nurses here are trying to make a big difference in how doctors, nurses, and other medical staff talk to each other and to patients.

The Madigan Army Medical Center team is the first military hospital to participate in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, or AACN, Clinical Scene Investigator Academy, a national nonprofit program, which seeks to empower nurses to make patient care improvements. The Madigan team is one of seven regional hospitals participating this year.

"We want to make the patient's experience better. We want the patients to feel involved in their care and know what's going on," said 1st Lt. Amelia Schmitt, one of the staff nurses on the team.

To do so, the team is going back to basics, using formatted white boards in inpatient rooms as "instant messaging systems" for medical staff to communicate with each other and patients.

Ideally, nurses and doctors would round together, but given the high pace of patient care, sometimes their primary communication is done through patients' electronic charts, said 2nd Lt. Jessica Rodriguez, another staff nurse and team member.

"By the time we get to the computer or the doctor gets to the computer, it's later on in the day, and certain issues could be addressed earlier," she said.

National guidelines require that all inpatient rooms have white boards, but there is very little guidance on what should be written on them other than staff names and the date. The formatted boards will be used to write down anything patients might have questions about, and can be used by interdisciplinary teams such as social work, physical therapy or occupational therapy to give feedback and suggestions.

"This is our collaborative daily goal sheet," said staff nurse Stefanie Martin, who along with 1st Lt. Dan Ciuzio, completes the team.

Since it is a pilot project, the new communication boards are only in select inpatient rooms at Madigan. So far, though, the patients love it, Rodriguez said. Their Families do too, Martin said, especially since inpatients may not always remember conversations that they have had with their nurses or physicians and the Families can simply look at the board to see when new procedures are scheduled and what has already been done that day.

"This is really our way to put it out in plain sight for them to see the plan and what's going on with their care," Rodriguez said.

The pilot project will run through September, and the team will present their findings to fellow hospitals in January. The team hopes that the project will be expanded to all of Madigan's inpatient rooms, and that civilian hospitals at the presentation might take on the concept too. Their results will also be shared nationally through an AACN database.