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How Effective Communication Can Save Lives in the Healthcare Industry

Posted by PCC Institute for Health Professionals on January 25, 2016

communication in the healthcare industryIllness — acute or chronic — or injuries can interrupt life dramatically. The rise and fall of emotions in reaction to an illness, injury, or surgery can create instability, numbness, and a sense of hopelessness. A cancer diagnosis can take a person through dozens of emotions in a single minute. Fear of the unknown, loss of control, confusion, grief, anger, depression, and anxiety can hit hard. Who will be there to help this person during this surreal and scary time?

As a healthcare professional, your communication skills need to be stellar and a top priority. Good communication skills are required by ALL healthcare professionals, not just by the social workers and psychologists. Active listening, responding appropriately to patient’s needs and concerns, properly assessing body language, and possessing a non-judgmental attitude are all necessary skills that healthcare workers need to possess. The importance of communication in the healthcare industry can help prevent injuries and death, increase trust between the patient and the caregiver, and strengthen relationships with other staff members. This post will discuss how communication can save lives in healthcare and increase success on the job. 

Effective and Direct Communication is Key…

Among Teammates and Management

Good communication is vital when discussing procedures, patient needs, and all pertinent information regarding patients’ histories and information. When important information falls through the cracks, the risk of patient injuries, death, and malpractice goes up. Kaiser Permanente in Southern California created the Nurse Knowledge Exchange to improve patient care through using an organized system to exchange information. For example, exchange of patient information during shift changes can be a daunting and lengthy process. Because of the length of time it takes to exchange this information during shift changes, a nurse’s first contact with patients can be quite delayed. In addition, patients reported they felt a “hole in their care” during shift changes. To make things worse, the system of exchanging information is not always organized, with some nurses writing notes on their scrubs! Important details are often left out and care that has already been given is provided again, needlessly. An organized system and a process for communicating higher-quality information more quickly and reliably were created using the Nurse Knowledge Exchange. The new information exchange process has nurses meeting at the patient's bedside instead of at the nurses’ station. This ensures the patients are involved and encouraged to participate in their care making it less likely that information will fall through the cracks.

Software also allows for good communication and provides a way for all staff to read notes and share information. Direct communication is also necessary when dealing with supervisors, billing, and accounting. When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, the results can be disastrous.  

When Working with Patients and Family Members

As a healthcare professional it’s important to put your work-self aside, and remember you are working with a real person going through real challenges. Rapport and trust can be built if you show empathy, compassion, and understanding with a non-judgmental approach. This will help minimize, or avoid altogether, miscommunication, mistrust, and unnecessary injuries and help you determine what needs the patient has. Family members also need the same approach.

Simple education is very important. Leave out the shop talk, unless absolutely necessary, and then be prepared to explain any terms or procedures that may be difficult to understand — without talking down to the patient and family members. Take it slow and have patience. Imagine yourself or your loved one going through the same thing. This will increase your empathy greatly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, do not leave the patient and/or the family members in the dark about the situation. This can cause anxiety to skyrocket and tempers to flare.

Best Practices to Implement

Plan for Different Personalities

We are all unique and so are your patients. You will come in contact with a wide array of personalities in your healthcare career. The pleasant people are the easiest to deal with. It is the more difficult personalities that will test your patience. Be careful not to react or respond harshly. They still need empathy, understanding, and care even if they don’t act like they do or aren’t responding positively to your attempts. Your kindness may be the brightest spot in their day. 

Be Empathetic

Empathy requires sincerity. It requires connection with your patients. It also requires facial expressions that show concern, soothing, kindness, and patience. Your patients will see through fake gestures and will know when you aren’t extending true care. Empathy is the ability to walk in your patient's shoes and show that you don’t judge them and are willing to go deeper. 

Use Active Listening Skills

Active listening requires that you not only use your ears, but the ears of your heart and mind. When you listen actively, you can tune in to patient needs and cues, words, and emotions that indicate distress, depression, and other highly-charged emotions. Listen more. Talk less. Ask open-ended questions and be careful not to interrupt your patients. And watch your body language. Be sure your body stance isn’t guarded, defensive, or uninterested.  

Take Notes

There is nothing worse than forgetting pertinent information because it wasn’t written down. This can be detrimental in a healthcare setting. Take clear and concise notes. If using a computerized system, remember that everyone involved will be reading your notes, so use it as a place to communicate with others and keep them apprised of individual situations. Detailed notes about medication, symptoms, procedures, dietary needs, and psychosocial needs are vital in healthcare. Don’t trust your memory, even if it’s sharp.

Be Direct, Clear, and Open

Be open, direct, and candid about all things involving your patients, their family members, and caregivers. Seal up any cracks in communication and don’t leave anything to chance or guesswork. Transparency should be a focus of communication models among employees and in employee-patient relationships. 

Healthy and strong communication in the healthcare industry is key to the successful running of daily operations, no matter the role you play. Every person is important in the healthcare field and every person is responsible for possessing strong communication skills. Open and direct communication can literally save the day — or a life!

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Topics: Healthcare

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