Growing the Muscles of Communication in Healthcare

By Keith Carlson via Multibriefs

In most every aspect of healthcare, communication is key to positive patient outcomes, stellar teamwork, and the seamless operation of organizations and facilities of every size and type.

A Tower of Babel scenario in a healthcare-related circumstance is never acceptable; thus, excellent communication must be at the forefront of the education of healthcare providers and serve as a central pillar of any high-functioning institution.

How, why, and when we grow our individual and collective muscles of discourse and conversation are of utmost importance. If you, your colleagues, your leaders, or your employing institution itself are lacking in this regard, it’s not too late to change that calculus for the better.

Why Communication Matters

For nurses, physicians, case managers, executives, and other members of the healthcare team, having high-level communication skills is paramount, although many may fall short in this regard. Your ability to communicate with compassion, clarity, and coherence is essential, as is your colleagues’ abilities to do the same.

Communication is like rocket fuel for the engine of healthcare delivery — when it’s practiced well, everyone benefits, not just patients. Communication within the healthcare milieu can occur in many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Nurse-patient relationships
  • Doctor-patient relationships
  • Staff members’ relationships with one another
  • Communication between executive leadership, management, and staff
  • Institutional communication with the general public and surrounding communities
  • Inter-facility relationships
  • Cooperation and conversation within and between teams

Casual conversations occur over lunch, in the hallway, at the water fountain, and in the parking lot. In the clinical setting, urgent transmission of key information occurs during a code, in the emergency room, and any other situation requiring the flawless conveyance of crucial data, orders, and feedback.

For patients, being educated well about their symptoms, disease processes, and treatment options could not be more important. If you hear a patient complain about their healthcare experiences, it’s sadly not a surprise if they explain how they’d been left in the dark about some aspect of their care — this is unacceptable for any possible reason and no excuses can possibly hold water.

Learning Communication Skills

When they’re lacking or could be taken up a few notches, communication skills can be taught and learned in a variety of settings. Individuals, teams, and entire institutions can choose to up-level their communication skills — all it takes is the will to make it happen and securing the best method for such important learning experiences.

"Medical improv" is growing in popularity as a strategy for teaching communication and listening skills, and there are a number of instructors and consultants who bring these instructional programs to medical schools, organizations, and hospitals.

Rather than being based on comedy improv like we see at clubs and on television, these are improv-based exercises that help healthcare professionals learn new skills, practice them in a safe environment, and receive and give feedback to one another in real time.

Additionally, online courses in communication are ubiquitous, as are books, audiobooks, podcasts, and other platforms.

Communication skills can be learned individually, in groups, and as a facilitywide initiative. For healthcare executives and leaders who wish to spearhead such endeavors, "walking your talk" and practicing what you preach is essential; rather than making a top-down edict about improving communication, we can lead by example and model the behavior we wish to see in the larger employee population.

Communication Leads to Success

When nurses and physicians have more effective conversations, care is streamlined and cohesive. When patients understand the education being provided to them, outcomes and adherence are improved. High-level inter- and intra-team communication are essential ingredients for success.

When healthcare institutions choose to communicate well with the surrounding community, alliances and partnerships can be formed while trust is simultaneously engendered.

As mentioned above, communication is like fuel for the engine of healthcare delivery, and the higher the quality the fuel, the more efficient and effective the engine. It’s a simple formula: improve communication on all levels, walk your talk, and watch the results roll in.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway, a widely read freelance nurse writer, and motivational/keynote speaker. Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, a popular nursing career podcast. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.



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