Communication skills in acute care setting

Communication skills in acute care setting

A post written by Jeanette Lacey

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw

Communication skills are a recognised and important part of health care core skills. Every year in our acute care settings we must complete our mandatory education to ensure patient safety, quality service delivery, and better outcomes for all, yet mandatory communication training remains elusive. For many health care professionals, the only communication skills training they receive is a few lessons at university if you were lucky, the rest of our training was learnt on the job. Again, if you were lucky, you had great role models, they led by example, taught you key skills, and invited you to learn from their wealth of experience. However not everyone had those role models, and frequently the people you learn from, may not have the skills that they need.  

Communication is a learned skill, we learn from our parents, our teachers our colleagues and friends. We use it every day in verbal, non-verbal written and technological ways. We need to remember that every communication in a health care setting is interpreted, valued and desired by patients and their families. When people are coming to the end of their life, communication skills become even more important. We need to learn to ask, listen and negotiate with patients, families and each other about care and treatments that are wanted, suitable, beneficial and do not cause harm, nor prolongation of the dying process.

Take a moment to think of the last time you saw a great communicator. 

What skill set did they bring? I remember so vividly watching my idols and mentors in Intensive care communicating with patients and families at the most critically and emotive of times. They had patience, compassion, time, and insight into the devastation of the news that they were delivering, and they knew that the way they delivered this news could impact a person for the rest of their life. They taught me that there is no limit to learning to be a better communicator and every opportunity to learn communication skills is one to be taken.  

Many of us think of communication skills as being important when delivering bad news, however, I challenge that. Every interaction with a person and their loved ones from the minute they enter a hospital has an impact. Every time you answer the phone, and your response to the person on the end of the phone, has an impact. I was reminded of this when I recently received feedback from a relative on the care that her father received in hospital, during the pandemic, when visitors were not permitted. This person commented that every time she rang, the person answering the phone would make comments like “we don’t have a Mr Jones” “Does anyone know a Mr Jones” who is looking after Mr Jones” “I don’t know anything about him”, the feedback to this was – “none of this fills me with confidence, I don’t feel like my father is safe, and I don’t feel like he is being cared for”.  

I cannot imagine what it is like to not be allowed to visit, and to feel like your person is not cared for.

The majority of complaints that are received in hospitals are due to communication breakdowns. Not least of which when people are approaching the end of life. Please consider how you can improve your communication skills. Learn from those around you and utilise some of the available resources and courses including End-of-Life Essentials, VitalTalk, and CareSearch.

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Jeanette Lacey
End-of-Life Care Nurse Practitioner
Hunter New England LHD 




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The views and opinions expressed in Palliative Perspectives are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.