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Health Communication Strategies: Importance, Barriers

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February 7, 2022

Effective communication plays a massive role in every process involved in healthcare delivery. In a healthcare setting, it's easy to forget the importance of effective communication practices when treating patients based on the subtle assumption that successful procedures and diagnosis are all that matters.

The Joint Commission estimates that 80% of severe medical errors result from handoff miscommunication. To thrive, you need to implement strong communication policies for your healthcare organization. 

As seen in the above statistic, your facility's complication rate will significantly reduce when you address communication gaps and errors within and outside your facility. 

Categories of Communication in Healthcare

A typical information flow in healthcare involves 

  • Patients give a comprehensive and open complaint of their feelings to their provider to receive adequate treatment 
  • Providers communicating a comprehensive treatment plan and giving sufficient health education to the patient and other medical staff 
  • An ethical means of patient information sharing between administrators and providers to protect patient confidentiality 

Generally, this information flow can be divided into three aspects: provider-to-provider provider, provider-to-patient, and internal messaging systems. 

Provider-to-Provider Communication System

This healthcare communications category covers every solution deployed in referrals, issuing scripts, collaboration, patient transfer, receiving lab results, and processing payments. 

The rules guiding this aspect of healthcare communication are rigid as they fall under the physical guidelines of the HIPAA Security Rule. 

The rule means that providers must protect Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). 

The Department of Health and Human Services enforces the HIPAA Security Rule by issuing violation penalties even if the HIPAA violation did not lead to a data breach. 

Provider-to-Patient Communication 

This communication system includes appointment reminders to more advanced telemedicine systems, which you can integrate with EHRs

While the security guidelines surrounding this communication system are not as strict as the provider-to-provider communication system, it remains necessary that patient consent be obtained before any of the above-stated communication solutions are used to communicate PHI. 

Besides provider-to-patient communication, patient-to-provider solutions also exist, ranging from nurse call systems to remote clinical consultation services (i.e., email consultation). 

It is also possible to integrate patient-to-provider systems with EHR to automatically update patient records. In this case, such information falls under the HIPAA Security Rule.

Internal Communication Systems 

Internal communication systems involve scenarios like requests to cover vacant shifts, emergency notification, staff schedules, and other internal messaging demands. 

This communication category aims to create a common platform for exchanging information within the healthcare facility. 

Depending on how they function, Internal communication systems may or may not be subject to HIPAA Security Rule. However, in all cases, internal communications systems are subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. 

The Significance of Effective Communication in Healthcare 

Your medical practitioners are already well equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to deliver quality health service to your patient. 

However, this potential might always remain underutilized if there is a lack of effective communication within your healthcare facility. 

When there is clear and honest communication between patient and provider, it becomes easier for providers to diagnose patients and develop suitable treatment plans accurately. 

Also, upholding the confidentiality of patient information during communication between care team members gives room for ethical care without violating patient confidentiality compliance rules and saving your firm from unnecessary fines and penalties.

With effective communication methods in your healthcare facility, providers can help patients feel at home, ease their fears, and feel heard. 

They can encourage them to release crucial and relevant information they might not share with others. 

Barriers to Health Communication 

Sometimes, it can be problematic to achieve effective communication within your healthcare facility. 

However, healthcare providers can take adequate steps to evade or solve most of these problems. Identified below are some of the barriers facing communication in healthcare;

Language Barrier

In many cases, it is difficult for some patients to communicate their feelings or symptoms when their provider doesn't speak the same language. It worsens when there is no interpreter in the healthcare facility to help communicate. 

 Patient's Lack of Trust 

A significant barrier to health communication occurs when a patient doesn't feel comfortable sharing sensitive information with the provider. Patients might withhold medical information because they do not receive listening ears from their providers. 

They feel judged, don't trust medical advice in general, or are afraid to undergo medical procedures associated with their symptoms. 

Work Overload

Effective communication entails your healthcare providers establishing a rapport with their patients, asking detailed questions, and working effectively with other relevant providers to provide adequate care for the patient.

 If the provider is overworked or has too many responsibilities, it becomes difficult to communicate or listen to the patient's complaint. 

Overworked providers can easily miss important information, and misdiagnosis may occur.

Mishandling patient information 

Due to the growing size of healthcare data, healthcare files need to be handled by multiple providers. This situation opens the door for miscommunication between providers. 

Passing patient information through multiple providers can easily alter patient data and even treatment plans, detrimental to patient safety.

Tips For Enhancing Health Communications

For your healthcare system to communicate effectively, your providers should receive training on good communication ethics in healthcare. 

In addition, sitting down to listen to your patient's complaints makes them feel comfortable opening up to you better. When a provider sits to talk with the patient, the patient can quickly build trust and rapport with your providers, no matter how short. 

Also, asking questions like "are there other things you would like to share with me today ?" can give your patients the cue to open up on things they were not interested in sharing in the first place. 

Asking open-ended questions gives your patient the platform to speak up and voice their concerns. Communications in healthcare become more effective when queries and requests and answers meet listening ears. 

To curb the barrier in language, having interpreters in your healthcare facility will help bridge the communication gap between the provider and patient. 

Providers should also refrain from using too much medical jargon while communicating with patients, and when you must use medical terminology, you should explain it in plain and straightforward language. 

Finally, keeping communications confidential is essential. Limit access to the patient case file to only members of your patient's care team and refrain from discussing cases with anyone outside the organization. 

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