Health Care Communication

“Health communication refers to health-related transactions between individuals who are attempting to maintain health and avoid illness” (Northouse & Northouse, 1998, p. 20). The effectiveness and therapeutic nature of communication between individuals in any health care relationship has a strong influence on the success of interpersonal relationships and health outcomes. Definition of Health Care Communication Health care communication is any human transaction that focuses on health-related issues.

Health care communication refers to any verbal, nonverbal, or written exchanges between health care professionals and their clients or other health care workers trying to prevent illness and maintain health. Health care communication can occur in any health care environment like a hospital, nursing home, doctor’s office, or clinic. Health care communication can also occur in public settings such as conferences, speeches, national health campaigns, and public addresses on health care topics (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Personal Health Care Communication Effective personal health care communication is a vital component for the development of successful professional-client and professional-professional relationships. Several communication variables such as empathy, control, trust, self-disclosure, and confirmation can improve communication practices of health care professionals (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). By expressing empathy, health care professionals help clients and coworkers believe they are understood, and their feelings and views are important (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Clients need to perceive that they have some control over their circumstances to dispel their feelings of powerlessness during stressful situations like illness. Health care professionals also need to share control through collaboration, which recognizes that all persons involved contributes their own expertise, which is valued, resulting in more productive communication (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). Building trust with clients requires that health care professionals show compassion and support without passing judgment in addition to displaying their expertise.

Clients need to believe they can rely on their caregivers to do what is best for them when they feel their most vulnerable. Health care professionals must communicate honestly and respectfully with each other to develop trusting relationships (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). When a trusting relationship forms between health care professionals and clients, clients may feel free to self-disclose their thoughts and feelings to these caregivers because they believe they are safe from ridicule or judgment (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Health care professionals may also self-disclose their personal feelings of frustration or confusion to coworkers, with whom they have developed a trusting relationship. Last, confirmation is the acknowledgment and validation of an individual’s feelings, opinions, and choices. Through confirmation, health care providers respond to their clients’ thoughts and feelings with support and understanding.

Health care professionals also want and need acknowledgment, support, and feedback from other professionals for their contributions to the health care team (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). Consideration of these communication variables will help health care professionals develop stronger communication skills resulting in trusting relationships with their clients and other professionals (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Professional Health Care Communication: Effect on Health Outcomes Various types of relationships exist in the health care setting including: professional-patient, professional-professional, professional-family, and patient-family. Professional health care communication involves the use of verbal, nonverbal, and written forms of communication by health care professionals to interact and form relationships with their patients and coworkers. These interactions can greatly influence patients’ health care decisions and outcomes (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Effective Communication In the professional-patient relationship, effective communication involves the patient’s ability to communicate his questions and concerns to the health care provider, who in turn directs his or her attention to the patient so that the patient’s needs are heard, clarified with feedback, and addressed (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). Health care professionals must also provide a clear presentation of health care information devoid of medical jargon along with an assessment of their clients’ understanding of the content so that they can make informed decisions about their care (Quick, 2010).

Effective communication between professionals is an important element in the delivery of quality patient care. Health care professionals need to work together for successful patient outcomes; therefore communication must occur between all of those involved with the patient’s care. These transactions include thorough documentation by all health care providers, comprehensive handoff reports to oncoming staff, along with respectful interactions with one another (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Examples of effective communication include: verbal order read backs to avoid medication errors, collaboration of a multi-disciplinary team to ensure that all the client’s needs are met, and education to all health care providers of changes in policy or procedures. Patients’ families play a major role in their recovery from illness by providing them support and encouragement, along with helping them cope with their illness and make health care decisions. When dispensing information to patients, professionals need to include family members unless the patients prohibit them (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Patients also should make their wishes known to their family members regarding their health care decisions, so they can make an informed decision for the patient if he or she is incapacitated in the future. Effective communication in all of these relationships is imperative for successful patient outcomes (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). Ineffective Communication Potential barriers to effective communication between the individuals in these relationships may exist because of role ambiguity and their expectations of each other (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

In professional-patient relationships, individuals may not know their role as patients or what their health care providers expect of them. The multitude of health care professionals, with whom patients have met, may also cause confusion for them. Language barriers and low education levels may result in patients misunderstanding health care information and education (Northouse & Northouse, 1998). Language barriers make it difficult for patients to communicate their symptoms or needs to their health care providers.

Ineffective communication between professionals may not only strain working relationships between the individuals but can also affect throughput, continuity of patient care, and patient safety. Incomplete documentation of patient care or ignorance of what has been documented can disrupt continuity of care. Ineffective communication between nurses and physicians can lead to “medication errors, patient injuries, and patient deaths” (Arford, 2005, p. 72). Family members not informed of a patient’s condition or their loved one’s wishes, cannot make a knowledgeable decision regarding the patient’s care.

Ineffective communication, which can be prevented if identified, can have detrimental effects on patient care. Theories of Therapeutic Communication Therapeutic communication is a critical element in helping patients identify and express their feeling, thoughts, and concerns so health care providers can address their issues appropriately. Client-centered therapeutic communication allows patients to be involved in recognizing or identifying their true issues and the problem-solving process. The health care provider is present for support and guidance (Northouse & Northouse, 1998).

Jean Watson recognizes the science of human caring as the foundation for nursing practice. The major components of her caring theory are called carative factors, which provide the framework for a healthy nurse-patient relationship and a successful patient outcome. These caratives concentrate on the fulfillment of the patient’s human needs through values appraisal of the patient and the nurse involved in the interaction, sensitivity to the patient’s situation and her thoughts and feelings, and the establishment of a caring, private, and safe environment that stimulates learning and ealing.

Through caring, the nurse inspires trust and approval from the patient resulting in a transpersonal relationship (Chitty, & Black, 2010). During the caring process, the nurse and patient may experience a moment of meaningful and spiritual connection with each other. These caring moments strengthen the trust of the relationship between them. This transpersonal caring relationship enhances the patient’s growth and development in her own environment, which facilitates harmony of the mind-body-spirit (Alligood, 2010).

Conclusion Health care communication greatly influences health care decisions made by professionals, patients, and patient families. When effective, health care communication provides clarity and understanding for all parties involved, promotes a safer patient environment, and allows an informed decision to be made. When communication is ineffective, confusion and misunderstanding result, and a negative outcome is more likely to occur. Health care professionals, who employ therapeutic communication, inspire trust from their patients resulting in healthy professional-patient relationships and successful patient outcomes.

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