Communication Skills

Communication Skills

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Communication can be defined as the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver in an understandable manner (Sanchez, N, 2009). An example of communication in healthcare is between clinical professionals and staff, patients and their relatives or carers, professionals doctors, occupational therapists, social workers, midwives, physiotherapists and administration staff (Darley, 2002). For their communication to be effective, each of them needs to put the responsibility for clear communication on himself (Healthcare Benchmarks & Quality Improvement 2009) which means that each of them should endeavour to send clear messages and to receive messages with as little distortion as possible (Mind Tools Ltd, 2009).

The NHS believes that effective communication is essential for high quality service and care, and to avoid communication breakdown complaints and problems (Hamilton Mercer, 2009) such as ill informed patients, worried relatives and bad publicity Darley (2002). To avoid communication breakdown, the HPC requires radiographers to be able to use appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication and to use an appropriate interpreter if necessary when communicating with service users and others (Health Professions Council’s (HPC) Standards of Proficiency - Radiographers, 2008).

Minardi and Riley (1997) state that it is very important to recognise the communication skills that may improve effectiveness. Verbal and non-verbal communication are the main forms of communication (Cant and Aroni, 2008).

Verbal communication is subdivided into the vocal category which includes spoken language, and the non-vocal category which includes written communication and communication conveyed through sign language or Braille (Communication and Language). The HPC requires Radiographers to be able to communicate information, advice, instruction and professional opinion in English (HPC’s Standards of Proficiency - Radiographers, 2008) since it is the main language in the United Kingdom (Mandy Barrow, 2009). For example, when performing an examination, they need to give clear instructions by explaining what they are doing and why they are doing it (Bach and Grant, 2009). If the receiver does not understand English, a good interpreter is needed to avoid misunderstanding. The receiver may also not understand the examiner’s professional language and as Minardi and Riley (1997) point out, the professional should explain technical terms in order to be understood.

Written communication is the ability to write effectively in a range of circumstances and for different audiences and purposes, in good English (The University of Sydney, 2009) using memorandums, reports, bulletins, job descriptions, employee manuals, electronic mail (e-mail) letters, telegrams, faxes, contracts, advertisements, brochures or news releases (Reference for business, 2010).

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It is very important in healthcare centres because it is used to increase patients’ knowledge and to influence their behaviour (Givaudan et al) for example brochures on smoking or obesity risks. The basis of effective writing is ensuring that the reader understands the message (Darley, 2002) and bad writing technique such as unclearly structured messages, too long or complicated messages, jargon, inappropriate language or grammar and bad layout, design, colour or font size (Darley, 2002) result in the reader not understanding or misinterpreting the message. Bad writing technique may also cause serious medical problems, for example, incorrect labelling of images may result in wrong surgical procedures being carried out (City University, no date). The HPC requires health professionals to keep accurate and appropriate records which, when handwritten, must be clear and legible (HPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, 2008).

Health professionals also need good reading skills because the HPC requires them to fully understand referrers’ requests (HPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics, 2008). For example, a radiographer needs good reading skills for correct patient identification to avoid examining the wrong patient or exposing a patient to an unjustified and possibly dangerous radiation dose (City University, no date). Good reading skills also enable professionals to keep their professional knowledge and skills current as required by the HPC (HPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, 2008) for example when reading journals.

Non-verbal communication includes facial expression, eye contact, gestures, body posture, clothing and appearance, and its purpose is to repeat, contradict, substitute, complement, stress, or regulate verbal communication (Fabri et al, 2002). Professionals’ non-verbal communication is significant to patients and family members because it helps them to understand the situation, to gain information before verbal communication and to lessen uncertainty (Northouse and Northouse, 1998). This, therefore, means that a professional can communicate something to patients or their relatives even if he is not using words since ‘one cannot not communicate’ as stated by communications theorist Paul Watzlawick (Ellis et al, 2003). Professionals also need to be attentive to patients’ non-verbal communication (Northouse and Northouse, 1998) as this helps them to understand their messages better.

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