four people sitting around a laptop, smiling at the screen

Communication skills in healthcare

Communication skills are an integral part of patient care and should not be overlooked. In this article, we'll explain why these skills are so important in healthcare.
Mike Jeavons, Content Writer

Communication skills are important in every industry, however in healthcare, where lives are literally on the line, ensuring communication is clear and precise is critical.

Not only do medical professionals communicate with each other, but also patients and their families from a wide variety of backgrounds. As a result, part of developing communication skills in healthcare is knowing how to adapt your approach - including how you listen.

By neglecting communication skills, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals risk misunderstandings, and in a field such as medicine, those misunderstandings can have potentially life-threatening consequences.

Below, we’re going to take a look at why communication in healthcare is so important, the benefits of effective communication, and how healthcare professionals can develop these valuable skills.

What are the 4 types of communication in healthcare?

There are four main types of communication in healthcare. It’s important for medical professionals to be proficient in all four, as each contributes toward them being well-rounded and effective communicators.

1. Verbal communication

Verbal communication is when healthcare professionals speak aloud, whether in-person, on the telephone, or on a video call. This can be to colleagues, patients, or patients' family members.

There is more to verbal communication than the words that are said - it’s equally as important to be conscious of how they’re spoken. This includes the tone and pitch. It’s easy to forget that we pour emotion into our speech.

When speaking it’s important to remain professional and courteous to others at all times - even when emotions are high and tempers fraught. This is why verbal communication skills in healthcare settings should be a developmental priority.

2. Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions, can affect how a patient absorbs information. For example, negative body language could unnecessarily exacerbate a patient’s anxiety, which may affect a professional’s credibility.

A big part of working in medicine is conveying empathy, confidence, and reassurance, which is why solid non-verbal communication is so important.

3. Written communication

There’s a stereotype surrounding doctors’ messy, scribbled handwriting, with many joking that it can be illegible. In an industry where communication is so critical, written communication should also be developed.

Written communication should be thorough yet succinct, as well as clear and accurate. Whether it’s a prescription, a referral letter, records, an email, or even personal data, all forms of written communication must be to a consistently high standard.

4. Formal communication

When dealing with sensitive subjects such as a patient’s health, formal communication should be used often. This includes avoiding medical jargon, to make sure everyone can understand what is being said.

Why is effective communication so important in a healthcare setting?

The number one reason effective communication skills are required in healthcare is to ensure the health and safety of patients. However, this can be broken down into smaller contributing factors.

To understand a patient's needs

Caring for a patient is a two-way street, so understanding what the patient needs from their point of view is just as important as a learned medical opinion. Individual needs may relate to religious or dietary requirements, for instance.

It can also include understanding a patient's emotional state, which may already be heightened being in an unfamiliar, medical environment. In order to do that, listening to a patient is just as important as offering information.

To help track and communicate changes in care

In healthcare, changes happen frequently - and not simply related to patients, either. Administration, medications, tests, procedures - any part of the process can experience changes. As a result, clear and accurate communication must be used to effectively convey those changes. Failure to do so can cause delays and lead to improper patient care.

To create synergy between practitioners and team members

To deliver the best care, every staff member should be aligned, which means communication skills between healthcare professionals should be faultless. This avoids unnecessary stress and distrust for patients, who don’t want to repeat themselves or face the same questions multiple times. It will also increase efficiency and shorten the length of time a patient remains in care.

What are some other benefits of effective communication in healthcare?

On top of helping to deliver exceptional healthcare, effective communication can have many other benefits that help those working in the industry. 

Making personal connections

While those who work in healthcare are busy, making personal connections with patients - as well as colleagues - humanizes you and can help patients to relax. Similarly, once connections have been established it builds trust and compassion.

Cultural awareness

Working in medicine introduces professionals to people from all walks of life, including those with different beliefs, backgrounds, disabilities, and lifestyles. With open and honest communication medical staff can learn about different cultures and prevent awkward interactions and possible faux pas.

Better patient satisfaction

While doctors and nurses may not always be able to deliver good news, effective communication can lead to greater levels of patient satisfaction. By showing that you care, you can decrease complaints and even readmissions.

What are some ways to improve communication?

The most cost-effective and convenient way for medical professionals to improve their communication skills is via eLearning courses. Courses are self-directed, so can be taken during periods of downtime or even during the commute. This way, they don’t disrupt patient care, but do allow doctors and nurses to improve their communication and, as a result, the quality of their care.

eLearning courses in communication cover the below topics:

Active listening

Active listening is the process of showing someone that they’re being listened to, such as by maintaining eye contact or nodding. By doing this, healthcare professionals showcase to patients and colleagues that they’re listening and absorbing what is being said. If someone isn’t active listening, they may lose trust or come across as insincere.

Be empathetic

Sympathy is easy to give, whereas empathy is somewhat harder - it’s also much more effective. It includes active listening, offering support, asking questions, and being non-judgmental.

Take notes

Healthcare professionals may think they have a good memory, but chances are it’s not quite as good as they think it is. To avoid errors and important points, detailed notes should be taken. This will also help with synergy between team members, who can refer to those notes so care isn’t delayed or disrupted.

Be direct, concise, and open

Sometimes healthcare professionals may have to give patients and their families bad news - but doing so directly, concisely, and openly is better than trying to skirt awkwardly around the subject. However, in doing so professionals must ensure empathy and understanding - it’s a difficult but important balancing act.

Where can you learn more about communication?

Without solid communication, healthcare professionals won’t be able to deliver the sort of high-quality care patients expect. This is where online communication skills training for healthcare professionals can help.

For more information on how Go1 can help your organization with online people and communication skills courses and more, book a demo with a member of our team today. 

Go1 helps millions of people in thousands of organizations engage in learning that is relevant, effective and inspiring.
Latest stories and insights