Effective communication is important at almost any job, but there is a special emphasis that should is placed on communication and teamwork in the healthcare organization. Lack of communication and team collaboration in this field can have damaging, and sometimes deadly effects. Lack of critical information, misinterpretation of information, overlooked changes, and unclear orders are just a few of the potential risks surrounding ineffective communication.
First, let’s look at the barriers to effective communication. Many of the common communication barriers occur between a superior and subordinate, in example a physician and a resident, or a nurse manager and a nurse. Most of the communication problems occur between a nurse and a physician. This could be due to different perceptions when it comes to the roles and responsibilities of each individual. Because healthcare systems are based on a hierarchy, those at the bottom of the hierarchy can feel nervous in their open communication, or disagreeing with someone at a higher ranking. This feeling is intensified when someone at the top of the hierarchy is unapproachable to others.
A major barrier concerning cohesive communication is the variety of cultural backgrounds that people in the healthcare systems come from. Because the United States is a melting pot of cultures, many of our healthcare workers come from a number of different backgrounds. Cultural differences can effect verbal and nonverbal communications. For example, if someone comes from a culture where individuals refrain themselves from being assertive, it may hinder one’s ability to speak up if they see something they don’t agree with. Nonverbal communication can include eye contact, facial expressions, etc.
Other barriers include gender differences, intimidation or the fact that one believes speaking up won’t do any good; nothing seems to change. Most of these barriers are dealing with personality and communication style.
Something all healthcare managers can aim for is to create a culture of team collaboration and work to support team communication. You can imagine that all healthcare providers have at least one thing in common; the goal to meet the needs of their client. Take this notion and use it to encourage responsible communication. All members need to value trust, respect and collaboration to have an effective team that does not make mistakes that could be avoided.
The first step to take is a willingness to address the situation. This starts at the top, and should trickle all the way down the team. An effective leader will be approachable and familiar. It is found that employees generally favor familiarity rather than formality. Being involved in the daily routines fosters interaction with staff members of all hierarchies, which leads to trust and honest communication.
Other steps to enforce effective communication include creating opportunities for groups to get together, development of policies, encouraging reporting of activities and focused team training programs. Creating opportunities for groups to get together, formally or informally allows everyone to create a dialogue about workplace issues, and find solutions to them. Creating universal policies for everyone to follow gives everyone a guideline to follow- not one person should be excused from them, opening the doors for questions and problems that arise. Encouraging the reporting of troublesome behavior puts any issues such as confidentiality to rest, as workers know they can go to their managers without problems to report anything troubling they may have seen, without reprimand.
In today’s healthcare organizations, effective communication should be at the forefront of goals. This is possible with strong, reliable leadership and a willingness to seek out problems and find the solutions. Getting involved in day to day operations, knowing your staff and patients will lay the groundwork for a successful team and effective communication.