Hospital communications: Train workers to look, listen

Miscommunication in healthcare is one of the top patient safety risks, contributing to up to a quarter of readmissions.  But in a fast-paced, chaotic hospital setting, proper communication is easier said than done; to ensure it, healthcare leaders and workers must acquire key skills, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

Part of the problem is that while most healthcare staff are trained in the technical minutia of care delivery, emotional intelligence and communication skills often go underemphasized, Beth Boynton, R.N., an organizational development consultant, told the publication. The issue is not that healthcare professionals are poor communicators, but rather that communication skills are difficult to teach.

"We don't see communication as a serious enough problem, and so we find we don't have time in schools to have courses on communication. We don't have time in our workdays to manage conflict," Boynton told Becker's. "Those things do take time and we have to make it a priority to do it right."

Martie Moore, R.N., chief nursing officer at Medline Industries, told the publication that hospitals must build their communication culture around patient safety and help staff develop active listening skills. 

To help improve communications, Boynton teaches "medical improv," which applies principles of theater improvisation to healthcare settings. The nature of medical improv allows instructors to center it on major initiatives and principles such as creating a culture of safety, improving patient experience or improving interpersonal communication.

In "synchronized storytelling" activities, for example, people pair up and one tells a story while the other attempts to tell it with them. Such activities improve listening skills, Boynton said, because they require sharp focus to get them right.

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