Strong and equitable interprofessional communication is crucial.
We’re trying to collaborate. We’re needing to communicate. We’re having to coordinate within incredibly complex, overlapping systems, under unbelievable circumstances.
Here are tips to help you be more equitable while managing your interprofessional communication. And there’s an infographic!
It’s Christmastime! In the spirit of peace on earth and good will to all, this episode is about communication with other professionals. Whether it’s your colleagues that you talk with on the regular, or folks you interact with only once. Here’s tips to help you manage key areas of concern when it comes to interprofessional communication.
Hi everybody. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, an independent health-equity focused education and communication consultancy. If your organization needs expert help with any topic in this series, visit healthcommunicationpartners.com.
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Now there’s plenty of need, and we’re all stretched thin. Everyone’s trying to serve their communities, whether it’s directly through care or increasing access or addressing barriers to care. We’re trying to collaborate. We’re needing to communicate. We’re having to coordinate within incredibly complex, overlapping systems, under unbelievable circumstances.
For more than 4 years, Heath Communication Partners has been making an impact in the field of culturally-relevant communication and education, partly through this podcast series heard ‘round the world. As you know, in this series I takes up issues and questions about communication and education raised by professionals in the health sector, and address them in ways that enhance equity—including equity within the teams doing the work! Yes. Doing this kind of work means collaboration, which can be tricky even under ideal circumstances–which a global pandemic is not.
In this episode from 2019, I’m sharing ways you can manage three key areas of concern when it comes to interprofessional communication, on individual and systems levels. What I have learned from drawing on a large research base and also decades of experience collaborating with colleagues and clients. A 2017 Discussion Paper from the National Academy of Medicine underscores how much this has to do with communication:
“[E]fforts to improve health and eliminate disparities require professionals to understand audiences, share across knowledge arenas, provide culturally appropriate and accessible health information resources, and innovate strategies to engage vulnerable populations.”
It’s not news that difficult and deep-seated challenges benefit from collaborative efforts. The pooling of knowledge and resources also helps reduce time wasted to duplicated efforts, and helps under-resourced groups. We know it takes a village. We know none of us is as smart as all of us. Still, the challenges are real. There are personal concerns, interpersonal concerns, and institutional concerns when it comes to interprofessional communication. So let’s dig really briefly into each of those three.
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Personal concerns. We all have our communication hangups. None of us wants to look foolish. When it’s something we care about, or it’s a difficult issue – or both – we can put additional pressure on ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could magically leave our awkwardness, or doubt, or frustration at the door when we have to communicate in a professional capacity?
Now we all believe we have good reasons behind what we do and say and feel. We develop ideas that work for us. They are based on our experiences, our knowledge, and our communities. And these processes are largely unconscious on our part. Our language tends to reflect what we think is normal, natural, or the way things should be. That’s not necessarily a problem…but it can show up like one.
What’s more, when we speak with another human being, we are strengthening (or weakening) our relationship with them. We are revealing our perspective on whatever issue’s at hand. We are making a case for our priorities. And more. That can be intimidating for anyone.
So how about some interpersonal concerns? Ok, it’s obvious that communication is an interaction between people. It’s easier to forget that different people are more comfortable speaking in some places, or to some people, than others. We also can feel more or less confident in our knowledge, depending on where we are, and who’s listening.
Folks on your team may be coming from different places, or standing in different spaces–economically, politically, or culturally. Your team members participate in different communities: professional communities, neighborhoods, families, and multiple other social groups.
And these groups tend to impact the ways we talk, think, act, and more. So we’re all coming together with what we believe to be good reasons for doing, saying, and believing like we do. This is a large part of what makes groups powerful, and at times, tough to navigate and sustain.
Let’s think a moment about institutional concerns. You won’t be surprised at the two institutional constraints most often shared with me: time and technology. That’s largely because when, where, and how you interact shapes what you do together.
For instance, where and when group meetings are held matters. Some times and locations will make participation easier for some group members than for others. This is about logistics and structure, but also organizational culture. Whether it’s down to institutional norms, or the status quo, we feel a more valued part of some contexts than others.
And there’s plenty of variation within contexts. For example, what is acceptable or normal communication in one institutional context is not necessarily so in another. Success or comfort in one department, or one organization, or one sector does not automatically translate into success in another.
We all know about academic silos. Those silos are the places each of us learned to talk, think, read and write in ways that are necessarily specific to our area of expertise. But we also get silo’ed within our institutions, don’t we? Once, I gave a talk that drew folks from different departments in the same organization. After my talk, I was eavesdropping a little on their conversations. It turns out they didn’t really know each other, and hadn’t realized how much they could have been working together given their shared interests.
I realize there are many, many other structural and social issues I’m not even touching on, but let’s turn to the good news. Because there IS good news. There are ways to constitute these interprofessional groups, and there are ways they can work and sustain themselves. Who’s one person you can reach out to and say, “We probably have common people (or common problems), so maybe we can help each other?” Just one person. You can do this.
Another thought on a personal level: Notice some of the phrases or terminology you commonly use. What are the underlying assumptions about patients or colleagues or clients within these words and phrases? For example, calling patients “frequent fliers” or “noncompliant;” describing a colleague’s contribution as mainly about “soft skills.”
Here’s some thoughts for the Interpersonal level: For your next meeting, check ahead of time: do you have an agenda? If not, make one. A quick one. An objective and some action steps. Even something this short will ensure you make the most of the time. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget. I’ve said this to multiple people. One appreciative physician told me, “It’s different to just hang out and say we’re talking–it’s different if we have an agenda. There has to be a little bit of formality,” she said.
Another interpersonal concern: Who is best served by the current arrangements in your group? For example, is there maybe a small shift that would make collaboration easier for more participants? Maybe occasionally switching to conference calls, or making an online meeting space, or rotating who’s in charge.
Now let’s turn to an Institutional level concern: What person or group, or perhaps even specialization or knowledge base, tends to dominate in your interprofessional groups? Which tend to be a little quieter, perhaps marginalized? For example, think of who typically is not heard from, even when they’re present. What might change if there were more of a level playing field?
If you’d like some more examples and encouragement, check out my earlier podcast episode on hotspotting at healthcommunicationpartners.com. And there’s a transcript for this and every single episode I do at healthcommunicationpartners.com with hyperlinks because I love linking research to practice!
Interprofessional groups are intended to be collaborative, and collaboration hinges on open communication. These tips might help you see some small ways communication in your group could be brought more in line with its goals. If you’re like more help, drop me a line.
This has been 10 Minutes to Better Communication. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel for Health Communication Partners.