The importance of communication for improved patient outcomes and patient satisfaction

As children, we probably all played ‘Broken Telephone’- whispering into a friend’s ear a message that was then passed on and on, before finally the message at the end was shouted aloud and, to hoots of laughter from the original sender, was revealed to be completely different to the message that started the game.

Since childhood then, we have been learning how easy it is to misinterpret or misunderstand even the simplest of communications. It’s said that clear communication only exists when the message received is the same as what the sender intended. For medical practitioners, clear communication is at the heart of delivering good practice, so it comes as no surprise to see that effective communication is featured prominently as a new requirement from the GCC for the 2021/2022 CPD year. Miscommunication is a hallmark of many complaints against medical professionals and public perceptions research conducted by the GCC in 2020 continues to highlight the importance of communication to improve patient outcomes from care and patient satisfaction.

Talking to people is something we do, day in and day out in clinical practise, so it’s easy to overlook the importance of formalised training and self-development of these skills. In the NHS, we refer to providing the right information, at the right time, for the right person. This involves honing the ability to build trust and rapport quickly, to establish a strong therapeutic alliance, and identify a patient’s preferred communication style to ensure the message received is the same as the one we intend to deliver. Communication skills can be developed with time and experience, yet there is always room for accelerating this skill acquisition and for improving and refining how we do things.

For students in an intensive learning environment it is easy to assume that communication skills will develop naturally, and are therefore often not seen as a priority, yet it’s not uncommon for students and clinicians alike to struggle with communication skills, be it setting goals with patients, delivering a report of findings, or even explaining a plan of management; these are key areas where communication skills can support your practice. I have enjoyed coaching many new graduates and we are delighted to be working with the University of South Wales, incorporating communications skills into the curriculum to support students at an undergraduate level.

Developing your communication skills will bring benefits to so many aspects of learning and clinical practice, and will ensure that you feel well-equipped to have effective conversations, with your patients at the heart of them.

By Philippa Oakley

BCA chiropractor

Registered Coach and Mentor, NHS Leadership Academy