Health Care Communication
As the nation's health care resources become more and more strained, health care professionals are being asked to do more with less. They are being pressured to find cheaper ways to improve the quality of health care they deliver. Given the current circumstances, this sounds difficult and even unreasonable, but it may not be entirely impossible.
One simple way for medical professionals to improve the quality of health care they provide is by improving their health care communication skills. Health care communication is "The art and technique of informing, influencing, and motivating individual, institutional, and public audiences about important health issues. The scope of health communication includes disease prevention, health promotion, health care policy, and the business of health care as well as enhancement of the quality of life and health of individuals within the community." (U.S.D.S.H.S., 2000, p.11-20).
In health care, as in all aspects of life, communication is important. Almost everyone knows firsthand the power of words. Words can be used to help people, but can also be used to hurt people. For health care professionals, words are invariably meant to help patients. However, some words end up having the opposite effect, creating fear and depression in the patient. The ultimate goal of the health care communication field, or therapeutic communication field, is to figure out the relationship between communication and personal health.
The Relevancy of Effective Professional Health Care Communication to Health Outcomes
There have been number of studies which demonstrate a strong relationship between health care communication and health outcomes. These studies have looked at some of the most important categories of health outcomes, most notably those relating to patient capacity and effort after treatment. Although these outcomes are considered to be beyond the control of a health care professional in the traditional sense, they appear to be predicted by certain health care communication factors.
Patient Capacity to Self-Manage a Chronic Medical Condition
A 2003 study investigated the association of physician communication behaviors...
The overall results showed that higher survey scores of physician attentiveness and empathy were associated with greater patient satisfaction, increased self-efficacy, and reduced emotional distress following the consultation. (Zachariae, R. et. al., 2003, p. 664)
Patient Capacity to Adopt Preventive Health Behaviors.
A 2002 study assessed the influence of patients' evaluation of their physicians' participatory decision-making style, rating of physician communication, and reported understanding of diabetes self-care on their self-reported diabetes management. The overall results showed that the patient ratings of providers' communication effectiveness were more important even than a participatory decision-making style in predicting diabetes self-management. (Heisler, M. et. al., 2002, p. 252).
Patient Capacity to Follow Through with Medical Recommendations
A 1998 study investigated the relationship between seven defining elements of primary care (accessibility, continuity, comprehensiveness, integration, clinical interaction, interpersonal treatment, and trust) and three outcomes (adherence to physician's advice, patient satisfaction, and improved health status). The study found that Physicians' comprehensive ("whole person") knowledge of patients and patients' trust in their physician were the variables most strongly associated with adherence. (Safran, D.G. et. al., 1998, p. 219). Patient trust in health care professionals is one of the main objectives for health care communication and therapeutic communication, which will be discussed later.
Ineffective Health Care Communication and its Contribution to Poor Health Care Outcomes
Ineffective Health Care Communication
Ineffective health care communication can arise from a lack of patience, empathy, and/or awareness on the part of health care professionals. (Rosenberg, S., 2008, p. 75) Many patients are in a vulnerable, anxious state of mind when they talk to a health care professional and need to be calmed down before they can begin to listen. One study found that less than half of hospitalized patients could identify their diagnoses or the names of their medication(s) at discharge, an indication of ineffective communication with their physicians. (Makaryus, A.N. & Friedman, E.A., 2005, p. 993).
Some patients are afraid of disappointing or frustrating their health care professional so they will conceal evidence of their own neglect or misconduct in regards to their health. Other patients…
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