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Many of us have played the telephone game where everyone sits in a circle and whispers a short message to the person next to them. When the message gets to the last person, it’s amazing to see how much the original message has been changed or distorted.
While this is a fun game to teach children and young adults how rumors can get quickly out of hand, effective communication in healthcare isn’t a game. Instead, it is a necessity because there is a lot at stake:
- It’s vital for patients to feel comfortable enough to express their needs and concerns openly and honestly to receive the best care possible.
- Providers then must relay treatment plans and health concerns clearly and emphatically so the patient understands the options for optimal care.
- Administrators and providers must ensure patient information is being shared ethically and responsibly to protect patient confidentiality.
- Healthcare organizations must bridge communication gaps in a culturally responsive way, so all parties involved can understand each other and ensure quality care.
Since the stakes can be a matter of life-or-death, effective communication in healthcare is vital. Health administrators and professionals alike can benefit from continually learning proper types of communication in healthcare for themselves, their teams, and patients.
Common Barriers to Communication in Health Care
Healthcare systems need to think of communication as the foundation of a successful organization. While it’s not always easy, there are ways to overcome common barriers to effective communication in healthcare.
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Patient Communication Barriers
It’s common for patients not to feel comfortable sharing personal information. This could be due to substance abuse, sexual orientation, or a mental health diagnosis.
These patient-provider communication barriers can be due to several reasons:
- The patient may feel intimidated by their provider.
- The patient may feel their provider may not understand or listen to them.
- The patient may have a negative outlook on medical advice.
- The patient may struggle with physical or mental health issues that make communication difficult.
- The patient could feel disrespected or defensive of the provider’s requests.
Patient-Provider Language Barriers
It’s common for a patient not to be able to communicate their needs or symptoms due to not speaking the same language as the provider. This can cause a language barrier that can impede effective communication in healthcare.
Healthcare organizations need to implement cultural care through interpreters to bridge communication gaps. Proper medical care can be compromised if these communication barriers are not addressed.
Lack of Patient-Provider Rapport
In most cases, healthcare facilities are stretched thin, causing providers to quickly go from one patient to another without being able to take the time to build rapport with patients.
As a result, crucial health information can go unnoticed or misunderstood. This lack of patient-provider rapport can cause providers to miss out on vital information about a patient, leading to misdiagnosis and improper care. In addition, it can make patients feel that their needs or concerns are going unheard or dismissed, leading to distrust.
To combat this, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals should take a few extra minutes to communicate with the patients effectively. As a result, the patient will feel that they are in good hands and can build trust with the provider.
Mismanagement of Healthcare Files
Healthcare data continues to grow as organizations provide care to more and more patients. However, since healthcare facilities have multiple doctors, nurses, administrators, and other healthcare professionals, there can be potential miscommunications in a single patient file, leading to mistreatment or misdiagnosis.
To prevent this, providers and administrators must be diligent in ensuring that all healthcare information is secure and confidential. Patient information should only be accessible to necessary medical professionals. This can be done by limiting how many medical professionals can access patient information so the team can effectively communicate and ensure quality care.
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Why Is Effective Communication in Healthcare Important?
Effective communication in healthcare begins with listening to one another and taking steps to bridge all language barriers. Even with a wealth of knowledge, experience, and education in the medical field, communication can get lost in the weeds in a fast paced medical environment.
As mentioned, this is typically caused by medical professionals rushing from one appointment to another without building rapport, mismanaging patient files, or when healthcare organizations don’t provide interpreters for patients and providers who don’t speak the same language. As a result, patients can feel unsafe, unheard, or disrespected.
In order to have accurate diagnoses and treatments, patients need to feel comfortable sharing information with the provider. In addition, healthcare team members need to communicate effectively amongst themselves to ensure quality care is provided while not breaching patient confidentiality.
Lastly, no matter the language a patient speaks, they have the right to understand the treatment they are receiving. If healthcare organizations can take the initiative to provide interpreters for their patients, they can be more confident that their patients understand the recommended treatments.
How To Bridge Communication Barriers In Healthcare
Here are simple strategies to bridge communication barriers between healthcare professionals and patients:
Sit Down When Speaking
Studies show that when patients and providers are seated during office visits, building trust between the two is easier. Doing so will make the patient more open and honest to the medical provider when asked questions.
Use The “BATHE” Technique
Open-ended questions allow the patient to express any concerns or issues they may be facing. The “BATHE” technique is an excellent way to build rapport and trust with a patient:
- Background: To build rapport, ask the patient about their life and current situation.
- Affect: Ask the patient how their current situation affects their daily lives.
- Trouble: Ask the patient about their concerns about the current situation.
- Handling: Ask the patient about their steps to deal with the situation.
- Empathy: Let the patient know that you are listening to their concerns and reflect by showing personal understanding.
Avoid Medical Jargon
Providers that mitigate medical jargon will have an easier time relaying information to the patient when possible. If medical jargon is necessary, the provider should then explain and define the medical language so the patient understands. When this communication is done effectively, the patient can trust that their doctor is taking the time and effort to ensure they understand what is being said.
Effectively Communicate To Bridge The Gap
Communication in healthcare is vital to provide safe, confidential, and proper patient care. By recognizing the importance of communication, healthcare leaders can help their staff bust communication barriers in healthcare organizations.
Related: Accountability in Healthcare: How is It Measured?