Why Communication Is Important in Healthcare
Why Communication Is Important in Healthcare

It’s no secret that one of the biggest barriers to providing good healthcare is communication between doctor and patient. Without adequate communication, the ability to deliver quality patient care is hampered severely.

But why exactly is communication so important, and where do the most common communication issues come from?

Common Barriers to Communication In Healthcare

Language and Culture

It’s pretty obvious that if two people are unable to communicate in the same language, they will not be able to convey complex ideas. But how else does language and culture play into communication? A big part is on the healthcare professional: it’s not uncommon for a healthcare professional to assume that a patient from a different cultural, social, or economic background is less health literate than another patient that’s more similar to them. As a result, they’re not given the chance to take an active role in their own healthcare.

The best way to remedy that is to hire staff that are culturally similar to the ethic minority populations of the area, but that might not always be possible. Another way is to train staff on cultural differences.

Health Literacy

Many patients are not health literate; that is, they do not understand and cannot communicate basic health concepts. It doesn’t mean that they’re not medically trained, as it’s possible to be health literate without being a medical professional. It means that they don’t understand how to take care of their own health properly, how disease and injury happens, or how the healthcare system works.

Because most patients are not going to tell a professional that they lack health literacy, an assessment must be done to gauge how health literate a patient is. Unfortunately, these assessments tend to be subjective because of the difficulty of implementing official empirically-based health literacy tests.

Improving health literacy in patients requires providing them with multi-purpose education, but that would also require them to absorb said information which is never a guarantee.

Patient-Staff Communication

It’s not just language, culture, and health literacy that can affect communication in healthcare. If staff aren’t making sure they’re understood when communicating to the patient, then that could cause serious issues in understanding especially if the patient is not health literate.

It’s important to train staff on how to properly convey information to patients at all steps of the process.

Most importantly, staff must have a way to confirm that the patient understands what is being told to them. The patient must understand their diagnosis and their treatment plan.

In Summary

  1. Language and culture differences present both obvious and subtle communication issues.
  2. Patients with low health literacy are less likely to understand what is being told to them, and work must be done to assess how health literate a patient is.
  3. Communication is a two-way street: staff must work to make themselves understood.