Accreditation Resource Services Newsletter
October 2020

CIHQ-ARS Article

Effective Communication and Patient Rights

By: Crystal Buck
In healthcare each patient has the right to be informed about the care that they are receiving. They have the right to make decisions about their health in collaboration with their family and their medical team. It sounds simple, right?
Well, sometimes it can get rather complicated. Caring for patients and ensuring that we communicate effectively with them can sometimes be hard to accomplish. Let us look at a scenario of how effective communicate is key. Patient A, a 55 year old male comes into the Emergency Room with shortness of breath and is admitted to the ICU with COPD exacerbation. During his hospital stay Patient A’s condition declines and he requires intubation and mechanical ventilation. He is no longer able to make his own care decisions.
Patient A’s daughter is the next of kin. She is 18 years old and does not speak English. The medical team talks to her about her dads’ condition and his prognosis. Due to the language barrier the organization tries to use interpretive services to communicate with her when they can. She is having a hard time making medical decisions for her father. Staff frequently use jargon and medical terminology that she does not understand.
Often, when the daughter is asked questions, she is too embarrassed to admit that she does not understand them, so she simply nods her head to mean yes. Fast forward three weeks and Patient A’s medical condition has improved significantly. He is now well enough to make medical decisions on his own. Patient A and his daughter have many conversations about the last three weeks and the medical decisions made for him. The daughter expresses how difficult it was to understand the information she was given so that she could make an informed decision.
As healthcare providers it is our job to meet each patient’s needs and communicate effectively. Effective communication can be difficult because there are many different forms of communication (verbal, non-verbal, written). In the end, it is our job to find a way to be effective communicators versus ineffective communicators. Some recommendations for ensuring that you have solid processes in place to promote effective communication between staff and patients are:
  • Assure staff know how to access translation and interpretation services.
  • Audit whether translation / interpretive services are being utilized as needed.
  • Encourage staff to avoid medical “jargon” with patients/families. Use simple terms. Remember, not everyone knows medical terminology and works in healthcare.
  • Train staff to verify a patient’s understanding of information provided.
Remember, with communication it is a two way street. You have the sender and the receiver. Both parties must communicate and listen effectively. This will ensure that the message is delivered and received as intended.