Features of Effective Communication in Healthcare

Laura Abayomi

This essay shall discuss the act of communication as it relates to the health care industry.

Communication is described as the act of sending and receiving information and this could either be verbal, non verbal or written. Communication in the Health care industry is very vital for effective health care delivery. This need cannot be over emphasized in that it is the only means by which appraisal can be made to determine the level of performance and success of both the health professional and the establishment.

There are different methods of communication suitable for different range of situations for example, under verbal, in order to effectively communicate with the blind and partially sighted patients, there is the need to use large print fonts size to enable them read without further strain to the eye Information that is being communicated via the written format should be legible and accurate especially for people with sight difficulty. The use of Braille, audiotapes, electronic text can be very helpful.

Health care organisations such as NHS also make use of telephone and voice mail when booking and confirming appointments in order to effectively communicate with this and other group of people.

Patients with hearing difficulties can be assisted by making available written material that convey information and also the use of BSI and text phone could be very helpful. Signs, symbols, gestures and body language can also be used in this situation.

Communicating with individuals with impaired speech could pose some form of challenge however; technological aid such as a special computer in which the patient can type in their thoughts or feelings and this message will then be spoken out loud can be used.

Patients with learning disability can be supported through their care givers and also by using illustrations, videos and audio tape and pictured pamphlets.

People whose first language is not English could find it difficult communicating in a care setting. For this set of individuals, language translator and the use of audio and videotapes that addresses that individuals need can be of immense help.

Communication is considered as the act of transferring information between two or more individuals. It is like two way traffic. For communication to be said to have taken place, information must have been exchanged that is, the sender and the receiver must have benefited mutually. There are many factors that constitute a barrier to communication, among these are;

  • Language: This could be a serious barrier to communication. There is the need for both the sender and the receiver to understand each other in order for communication to be effective and to avoid misunderstanding.
  • Environment: The environment in which communication takes place matters a lot and determines how effective the communication will be for example, carrying out conversation or trying to pass on information in a crowded and noisy ward could be quite distracting and this could act as a barrier.

The use of Jargons is another factor that constitutes a barrier to communication for example, when professionals use technical jargons or unfamiliar and overcomplicated terminologies when dealing with patients. Experience has revealed that when health practitioners use medical terminologies that the patient is not used to, communication will not be effective and this could even lead to confusion and misunderstanding

Culture is another aspect that could be a form of barrier to communication for example, in some culture it is deemed as inappropriate for a male health practitioner to relate in any capacity with a female patient and this could be a barrier. Also, some matters are considered taboos in some cultures therefore communicating such matters could be difficult to the person concerned

Emotional factors such as anger, stress or even ill health could act as a barrier to communication for example, the emotional state of mind of the receiver at the time the information is being relayed will determine if the massage is understood or accepted. Also excessive shyness could act as barrier to communication because this could prevent the patient from expressing him or herself clearly.

Barriers to communication can be overcome by addressing each barrier as it relates to the situation and environment one is dealing with which in this case is the health sector.

Language as a communication barrier is prevalent among individuals from the ethnic minority whose first language is not English. This group of people may find it difficult to communicate and express themselve adequately. To overcome this barrier, it is best to get a language interpreter and translator. Also leaflets and picture pamphlets can be used.

Overcoming environmental barrier to communication can be achieved through creating an atmosphere that is free of external distractions such as noise; when this cannot be effectively controlled, Individuals and organisations can adopt the use of earplugs and earphones in order to cut out outside noise.

Health practitioners should avoid the use of difficult terminologies and medical jargons when dealing with patients to avoid misunderstanding and confusion. Speaking in simple English or the agreed mode of communication will help eradicate communication barrier.

Inability to read could be a barrier to communication and this may be due to poor sight or too small letters (fonts) or illegibility of printed materials. To overcome this barrier, audio and video tapes as well as vocal interpretation can be used. Printed materials with large fonts will help alleviate the difficulty and promote good communication

Hearing Difficulties: This form of challenge can be taken care of by using of BSL and text phones.

Learning disability could be a barrier to communication. To overcome this, illustrations, videos and audio tapes can be used to simplify and make communication better.

From the tone of the first response, one can sense cheerfulness because of the sing song tone of the voice. The message that comes across to the listener is that of a satisfied patient.

The second voice sounds angry. This deduction is due to the sharp and abrupt tone of response to the greeting. The signal that comes across is that of a dissatisfied and angry patient. This anger could be the result of lack of adequate care given.

The third tone evidenced an emotional tone. It reveals that of a person with a broken spirit which may be due to a loss or having received bad news concerning a diagnosis such as Cancer.

Having considered the different tone of voice, it can be concluded that words as a medium of communication is the outward or verbal expression of what a person is actually thinking or feeling and this feeling can be interpreted in different ways judging from the tone of voice and response to even simple greetings. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (The Bible,NKJV).

The health professional’s approach to these different responses will differ. While the individual with the angry tone will be approach with caution, the other two tones are more welcoming however; they all need our understanding, re-assurance and empathy.

The Oxford dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (oxford dictionary 2015). This definition of empathy is very important in the health care sector because it truly mirrors how the health practitioner’s role should be seen and carried out. The ability to feel another person’s pain as if it is yours is a virtue that is essential in efficiently carrying out ones role as a health practitioner.

The patient or family member that comes to the hospital is in most cases at a very vulnerable state and needs all the support and understanding they can receive at this time. The ability to do this can only happen if the practitioner can understand and puts himself in the place of the patient. Evidence has shown instances where care practitioners have failed in doing this for example, the Winterbourne case where “vulnerable people were mocked and even tortured by the very staff that should have been supporting them”. (BBC news) At the end, eleven workers from the care home were convicted and six were sent to prison

Another example that made headlines was the Stafford Hospital case in which it was revealed through the help of hidden cameras how patients were rough handled, treated without dignity and left unattended to for hours and some were “left sitting on their own urine”( the guardian 2015)

The failure to listen empathically by people from whom this virtue is expected can be ascribed to several reasons. Firstly, it is best to understand that the ability to empathise can come naturally as an instinct or could also be learnt as a skill and through life experiences. While some people find it easy to show empathy, others find it a struggle and a challenge. Though this is a skill that is required in this sector, some practitioners lack it both as a skill and as an instinct.

Empathy emanates from truly listening to and giving of one’s time but when the professional is constrained for time, he or she may be distracted and thus be able to understand the patient’s pain.

The inability or failure to listen to others empathically could be the result of the individual’s upbringing such as growing up in a home devoid of outward show of emotions or empathy or may be due to some psychological disorder such as “antisocial personality disorder” or ASPD (psych central 2015)

Confidentiality is an essential part of the act of communication. In large establishments such as NHS, there are sets of rules or policy put in place to protect the privacy of patients.

The health care sector as a people centered organisation is built on trust therefore, there is the need for the patient to know for certain that every information that he or she has divulged in moments of vulnerability is handled with utmost care and used solely for the purpose for which it was given. It is therefore the responsibility of the health care practitioner to safeguard information that is given.

Personal medical records are of enormous importance and should be so treated; however; statistics has revealed breeches in NHS data record.

According to big brother watch; “…between 2011 to 2014, there have been at least 7,255 breaches”. (Big Brother watch 2015)

The list of breeches includes:

  1. “At least 103 instances of data loss or theft.
  2. At least 206 instances of data being shared inappropriately via e-mail, letter or fax.
  3. At least 251 instances of data being inappropriately shared with a third party” (Big brother watch 2015)

The breech of a patient’s confidentiality could lead to lack of trust in the system. The consequence of broken confidentiality can be far reaching in that it affects not just the patient, but the institution and the individual through which the breech was committed. It will cause the patient to lose faith in the system and may want to press charges and take legal proceedings against the health organisation and this could be costly and will affect the public image of the health organisation.

Also, records have revealed that disciplinary actions have been taken against the individuals that have been found guilty of breeching confidentiality laws and some have been sacked from their jobs and some of them prosecuted. (Big brother watch 2015)

There are instances where it is permissible to break confidentiality. In situations where the person divulging the information is perceived by the health practitioner as a possible threat either to himself or to someone else for example, if the person is suicidal or has revealed that a crime has been committed or there is the intention of committing one it is therefore the responsibility if the practitioner to break confidentiality and report the matter to the appropriate authority. (Answers.com 2015)

Besides the need for privacy and confidentiality, the need for a thorough record keeping in the health care setting is crucial for several reasons;

1. Records serve as Proof and evidence of medical procedure and medication that has been carried out on a patient.

It helps to further Continuity: In a hospital setting were drugs are administered, proper record should be kept so that the next practitioner that takes over will know what sort of medication had been administered to a patient.

Record keeping also helps scientists in their medical research to evaluating precedence in patient treatment and their reaction to drug and medication.

In conclusion, man as a social being had learnt to rely on each other through the ages and to do this; there is the need to communicate. The desire to meet this need has evolved from sheer words of mouth to include more sophisticated means and channels of transferring and receiving information thanks to modern technological advancement which has helped in no small measure in reducing the barriers which had hindered communication in the past.

Communication as one of the underlying aspect of human existence can be said to be dynamic and forward looking in its evolution and now includes other aspects such as record keeping for the sake of posterity, confidentiality and empathy. In the health care sector, these aspects of communication are paramount in effectively carrying out ones role as a professional.


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