Benefits of Improved Health Care Communication Education and Training

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Research has consistently demonstrated the benefits of communication education and training for health care providers. Efficient health care provider to patient communication is important and has multiple impacts on various aspects of health outcomes. These impacts include measurable positive correlations with outcomes such as (a) better health outcomes, (b) higher rates of patient compliance to therapeutic regimens, (c) higher patient and clinician satisfaction and (d) a decrease in malpractice risk. Although research and practical experience has demonstrated the importance of communication education and training between health care provider and patient, academic programs (as well as professional training initiatives, for the teaching of communication theory and research as well as communication knowledge, skills and abilities) continue to lag.

Image Credit: CDC

Despite these well-documented benefits, there remains a gap in sufficient communication education and training for health care providers. Literacy and patient communication play an important role in the effectiveness of health care overall. However, there are few requirements to teach communication knowledge, skills and abilities grounded in communication scholarship, theory and research in undergraduate and professional schools to health care providers. The topic of patient communication is rarely systematically addressed in schools of medicine, public health, nursing, dentistry or pharmacy. It is more rare for students to have access to specialized curriculum and instruction overseen by communication scholars and researchers. In practice, health care professionals may not appropriately and thoroughly know how to address the challenges of effectively communicating with each other and their patients. For example, a survey of nearly 700 professionals and policymakers found low levels of awareness of strategies to effectively communicate health information literacy or promote health literacy skills. Exploration of the effectiveness of communication between health care professionals themselves offers additional insights into communication education challenges and opportunities. Communication and information transfer between health are providers is critical to enabling the reduction of medical errors, as well as effectiveness of the health care system as the costs associated with ineffective communication between heath care professionals are very high. Ineffective communication between providers has been linked to issues of patient safety, medical error, low patient satisfaction and complaints by patients and caregivers. This can pose challenges for communication across the various (interacting) health care professions if providers are unable to understand or lack a shared understanding of key acronyms, jargon and concepts. These challenges are then exacerbated when providers make assumptions about other professionals’ comprehension, meanings they attribute to situations, values, beliefs, behaviors, etc. Skills that enable communication between health care professionals traditionally are not taught to students in existing common academic and professional curriculum.

Furthermore, there are challenges, obstacles and opportunities for communication between health care providers and patients lying in the vast landscape of new media. Drawing upon the research, scholarly and technical expertise,  as well as the insights from communication academics and professionals alike, the quality of communication can be adjusted and enhanced much more so than a reliance on those who are experts in other subject matter topics but not new communication tools and techniques.

Another communication education and training gap is found in the need to connect cross culturally with diverse communities. The consistently demonstrated inability to provide culturally sensitive health information to diverse populations has been identified as one of the key variables contributing to disparities in health care. It is imperative that health care providers understand the meaning different communities place on health and wellness, rather than assuming that the assumptions of the dominant Western medical model is shared interculturally.

One recent development is the emergency of health communication academic programs (largely residing in the communication studies disciplines) which are open to health care provider professional students and offer to them an interdisciplinary educational opportunity. Further, these new program developments have spurred interdisciplinary conversations that have advanced the research and practice of health communication greatly.

Image Credit: CDC

I believe that such rigorous academic and professional communication training should be available and incorporated in the preparation of health care provider professionals. Here are several significant benefits and advantages for the next generation of graduates to be far better prepared to be effective communicators in the health care professional context. Specifically, based on the research surveyed, improved provider communication knowledge, skills and abilities include the following advantages:

  1. Improved health care quality for patients (variables include; increased physical benefits, increased emotional benefits, higher rates of symptom resolution and better control of chronic diseases).
  2. Higher levels of patient behavioral compliance with healthcare instructions.
  3. Higher levels of patient satisfaction with the health care experience.
  4. Higher levels of clinical professional (health care provider) satisfaction with professional experience.
  5. Lower levels of medical malpractice risk (fewer medical malpractice claims by patients against providers).
  6. Higher levels of health information literacy. (More effective public health information campaigns)
  7. Lower levels of intercultural or cross-cultural communication misunderstandings and conflict.
  8. More effective utilization and integration of new media and new communication technologies consistent with research findings for effective communication.
  9. Lower levels of medical errors in health care contexts.
  10. Respond to the requirements of accreditors for improved communication quality in the health care context.

Communication matters!


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