Importance of Communication in Healthcare

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Promoting effective communication
among healthcare professionals to
improve patient safety and quality of
care

This guide was prepared as part of the Victorian Quality Council’s project on improving communication among healthcare
professionals.
July 2010

VQC – A guide to improving communication among healthcare professionals

Published by the Hospital and Health Service Performance Division, Victorian Government Department of Health, Melbourne, Victoria.
July 2010
This booklet is available in pdf format and may be downloaded from the VQC website at http://www.health.vic.gov.au/quality council

© Copyright State of Victoria, Department of Health, 2010
This publication is copyright. No part may be reproduced by any process except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968
Authorised by the Victorian Government, 50 Lonsdale St., Melbourne 3000.

Victorian Quality Council Secretariat
Phone 1300 135 427
Email vqc@health.vic.gov.au

2

VQC – A guide to improving communication among healthcare professionals

Introduction
Ineffective communication is reported as a significant contributing factor in medical errors and inadvertent patient harm. In addition to causing physical and emotional harm to patients and their families, adverse events are also financially costly. In Victoria, the direct cost of medical errors in public hospitals is estimated at half a billion dollars annually [1]. Today, healthcare is evermore complex and diverse, and improving communication among healthcare professionals is likely to support the safe delivery of patient care.

The objectives of this guide are to raise awareness and stimulate discussion and action around what your healthcare organisation, division or unit can do to improve communication and teamwork. The guide highlights the critical importance of, and common barriers to, effective communication in healthcare organisations and institutions, and points to some strategies and tools available to promote effective communication among healthcare professionals. While this guide has focussed largely on the acute care setting, the importance of effective communication among health professionals applies everywhere healthcare is delivered.

The importance of effective communication in healthcare – the evidence “Ineffective communication is the most frequently cited category of root causes of sentinel events. Effective communication, which is timely, accurate, complete, unambiguous, and understood by the recipient, reduces errors and results in improved patient safety” [2]. Much of the evidence connecting poor communication between health professionals with adverse patient outcomes has largely come from retrospective analysis of sentinel events and root cause analysis. For example,

 The Joint Commission in America has reported that the primary root cause of over 70 per cent of sentinel events was communication failure [3].
 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Center for Patient Safety in America has identified communication failure in healthcare as the primary root cause of 75 per cent of more than 7,000 root cause analyses of adverse events and close calls [4, 5]. The consequences of poor communication in healthcare settings have also been documented in Victoria and other Australian states.

 Twenty per cent of sentinel events in the Victorian public health system in 2008–09 were identified as ‘communication’ issues occurring between staff, staff and patient/family, and/or translation/ non-English speaking background issues. Communication is ranked as the second most common factor contributing to these events [6].  In Queensland, 20 per cent of sentinel events in 2005 – 2006 were due to communication failures [7].

 In New South Wales (NSW), the Special Commission of Inquiry identified inadequate communication or documentation, including miscommunication between doctors and nurses and inadequate clinical handover, as a major risk to...
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