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9 Tips for Creating Better Communication at Your Health care Facility

Nursing HandoffAlthough the Internet has increased the number of communications we initiate and respond to in any given day, it has done little for the quality of communication – and the poor skills have begun to spill out into the workplace. Miscommunication can be the root cause of a myriad of problems and, when it comes to the healthcare workplace, the results can be far more impactful than a personal email taken out of context.

A brief refresher course in effective communication skills may be exactly what your healthcare facility needs to improve patient care and lessen the risks associated with ineffective communications.

Whether the communication is written, spoken or non-verbal, it is important to remember that there are three equally important components to effective communication: the sender, the message and the receiver.


  1. Know What you Want to Say and Say It – Nothing More, Nothing Less: The onus is on the sender to communicate a message that is clear to the receiver. Distracting your readers or listeners with a lot of irrelevant information increases the likelihood your point will be lost. On the other hand, you don’t want to assume your receivers know things they may not or you risk having your message misunderstood. If you use specific terms, equipment or treatments at your facility be sure each receiver understands them before relying on them to communicate a message.  Make a list of the key points you want to make and stick to them.


  1. Don’t Send a Facility-wide Memo if a Message to a Single Person Will Do: It may be tempting to cover your bases by communicating a message to all staff when it becomes apparent one or a few have been doing something wrong. It’s best to assess the situation before making a company-wide communication that may embarrass those who it is really directed at, and offend those that it isn’t. Address it, by name, to those who need to receive the information for maximum impact. 


  1. Don’t Dilute the Message: Making a memo multi-task may also be tempting, but isn’t always the best option. An important issue stands out when it stands alone. Adding in a lot of other, less important, information you’ve been meaning to mention increases the chances the important message will be seen as equal to the additions – that were never important enough to send before.


  1. Be as Friendly as the Situation Allows: Relax, smile and look your audience in the eye may be cliché, but it is for a reason – it works. If you’re uptight or nervous, that will be the message you leave your receiver with instead of the one you intended. A smile and eye contact are two of the best ways to express your confidence and comfort with the message you’re conveying. Keep in mind, a fake – or ill-timed smile can do more harm than good. The best way to feel comfortable and confident is to be prepared. If all else fails, admit that you’re nervous; it will go a long way to put you and your audience at ease. 


  1. Know Your Audience: For some cultures looking a person in the eye is a sign of disrespect. For others, having someone reach out to touch your hand – even to comfort you – can be seen as offensive. In our increasingly diverse society it is nearly impossible to understand the traditions of every culture we come in contact with in a healthcare facility and even more difficult – and dangerous – to guess who practices which traditions. Looking at a person’s body language may be the best way to assess how well your communication is being received and understood. If all else fails, ask. It is equally important to consider the receiver’s intellectual level and craft all of your communications accordingly.


  1. Be Accurate and Clear: When communicating healthcare information, nothing is as important as accuracy. Start from the beginning and hit every point, start to finish, in chronological order. When writing, remember, punctuation counts. A misplaced comma – or is it coma – can change the entire context of a sentence. If you’re not a strong writer, ask someone else to edit for you. Ask someone, unfamiliar with the information, to read it and tell you what your message is. When speaking, be clear and concise. Ask the receiver to tell you about the key points of your message to be certain they were understood. 


  1. Don’t Be Afraid of Silence: If you ask a question of your audience, silence doesn’t mean they weren’t listening. It’s more likely to mean the receivers are taking the needed time to determine the correct answer from the new information you’ve just given them. Instead, use that moment to make sure you haven’t missed any of the key points you wanted to make.


  1. Be Personal: Don’t refer to yourself as “we” rather than “I” as in “We feel you are …” when you are the only person you are speaking for. Not only can it seem impersonal or that you’re not comfortable with the message, it can make the receiver feel like you’ve been talking about him with others. This goes the other way too. Avoid addressing people as a group, refer to individuals by their names. If you’re addressing a large group, ask names and departments of individuals you speak to if you don’t know them. 


  1. Create a Standard: There are as many ways to say something as there are people to say it. When it comes to communications, especially those made repeatedly, it is best to create a standard for how they are done. If everyone at your facility is filling out forms and making reports using the same format and terminology, then everyone at your facility will understand them when they read them, which will naturally lead to improved patient care. Consider creating documents that serve as instructional tools for new employees and reference tools for existing employees, and keep them easily and quickly accessible. Be certain to include any and all jargon that may be specific to your facility or industry.


If, as they say, good communication is the key to success, investing a little time to improve the communication skills at your health care facility will be time well spent in improving patient care. The Post Hospitalist process is made easier when communication is done right. If you’re looking to improve the standards of your healthcare facility, contact General Medicine The Post-Hospitalist Company for help!


Tom Prose