When things go wrong at work–or something just bugs us–it can be easy to push these negative thoughts aside and move on.
It’s especially easy to dismiss our concerns if we don’t hear others talking about similar issues. Maybe, we tell ourselves, it’s nothing.
Or we assume it’s a problem no one else has. So it shouldn’t be a problem for us.
Communication concerns are real
I’ve just returned from the biggest health communication conference on the planet. And I’m here to share three pieces of good news.
- Communication is a learnable skill. So you don’t have to be naturally good at it.
- There’s a whole set of fields, and swarms of smart people, dedicated to improving health communication.
- If you’re a clinician and you’re wondering if anyone else has the communication challenges you have, the answer is: probably. So you’re not alone.
[Incidentally, the conference was the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare and the Health Literacy Annual Research Conference.]
So if you’re feeling alone and unsupported when communication is frustrating, read on.
At professional research conferences, I’ve often been impressed by the thoughtful, complex issues my colleagues decide to tackle in their research. Their choices of topic are sometimes so powerful, or innovative, or timely, they leave me in awe of their bravery (or embarrassed I hadn’t thought of the topic before). Some clinicians I talk to are surprised—and glad—to hear about the robust work going on in fields of research dedicated to the communication around health and healthcare.
Since those of us ‘in’ these fields can be astonished at the range and variation of topics, I thought it would be helpful to share them with a wider audience. A kind of insider’s view. Some of this might be news to you–as it was to some of us at the conference. But as I’ve said, it’s good news!
This is just a glimpse. It’s to give you a taste (or, if you were there, a reminder) of the real problems experienced by health care professionals, that researchers and educators are busy addressing. Maybe some will sound familiar to you:
- Communicating w/patients of different language backgrounds
- Overcoming stereotypes in language (our own and others’)
- What to do when you’re asked emotionally-charged questions
- Listening skills
- Patient centered communication skills training
- How to help patients of all cultural and linguistic backgrounds get the skills and information they need to navigate the health care system, health insurance, and their own health and self-care
- Ways to meet the special communication needs of specific populations: refugees, children and adolescents, LGBTQ and sexual minority patients, home-dwelling elders, and many other vulnerable groups
- The impact of unconscious bias and prior beliefs on patient/provider relationships (and how to be aware of these)
- The effects of concordance of gender, ethnicity, language (they might not be what you think!)
- Communication to promote the health of all groups, including marginalized groups
- Cross cultural communication skills
- Interprofessional communication
- Communication that helps shared decision making
- Communicating about opioids
- Using the right language to get eligible patients into clinical trials
- How it’s ok, even good, for clinicians to have different communication styles with different patients
- Communication when patients look unlike clinicians
- Combining Western approaches to nutrition with different cultural communities’ approaches nutrition for better outcomes
- Community health workers rocked! So many ways they can be active care team members
- How social media can help professionals communicate latest/greatest ideas
- Quick ways clinicians can accurately learn more about their patient and what the patient wants
- Open ended questions (and lots of other question prompts)
- How the language of health insurance keeps patients out
- Communication structures that invite patients to participate, whether in research, in clinical encounters, or at home
- How language is the intersection of clinical decision making and medical knowledge
So if you’ve wondered about any of these kinds of issues, you’re not alone. All of these topics, and many more, have been addressed by people who give a darn about them.
“But that’s all research. I’m in the trenches.”
You’re aware that research and practice have complicated relationships. Reading about what all these researchers are doing may make you eyeroll, hard.
You may be thinking, “I don’t want to know about all the research. I want to know how to make things better.”
That’s the purpose of this short piece. I want to remind you that the communication concerns you have are legit. That the questions you have, and many more like them, are ask-able.
You deserve support in this complex part of your practice.
So what do you do? Use these topics as a starting place to:
- Ask the communication experts in your organization for resources on a topic you care about.
- Throw a question out on social media to your colleagues. For example, “Anyone know some good open-ended questions for encounters w/patients you don’t know?”
- Write me (in the form below), and let me know which of these (or other communication issues) you’d like to see addressed in a future article or podcast.