Barriers to effective communication in healthcare

Written by kayla lorday
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Barriers to effective communication in healthcare
Uninterrupted communication will bridge the gap between patients and health care information. (communication image by yang peng from

Communication is an important feature of patient safety and quality of care. The patient's rights and need for effective communication is customary in health care organisations. Effective communication is understood by both persons. And it typically operates in both directions--communication that simplifies the message. Barriers are the factors that hinder or interrupt health care communication. These barriers to communication include differences in language, cultural differences and low health literacy. By recognising and using preventive measures for these barriers, health care staff can communicate effectively.

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Language Barriers

The growing diversity of our nation brings more health care providers and corporations into contact with patients with different languages. Effective communication is at risk in such cases. The language differences itself are the leading obstacle to effective communication. Next, this language barrier is usually not immediately obvious. Patients, who considered themselves capable in English, were not. Further, physicians and hospital staff who thought they were fully proficient in another language adds to the problem because they were not.

Cultural Barriers

Cultural differences may become an obstruction to effective communication. The cultural perceptions of health, sickness, and medical care of patients and families may differ with that of the clinicians or organisation. A person's perception of the world and his or her comprehension of a word or sentence are affected by culture. Understanding a culture is not synonymous with proficiency of the language. Further, a shared culture does not translate into a shared language. Speaking the same language and being born in the same location does not automatically mean sharing all the elements of a particular culture. Another potential barrier to effective communication and care is the cultural nuances in verbal and nonverbal communication.

Health Literacy Barriers

People with poor literacy skills are especially challenged by most health information. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that there is a huge disparity between how people receive and comprehend health information. Language and cultural barriers are linked with low health literacy. Low health literacy is also observed in patients who are adept in English and who are a part of the collective American culture. There is a high risk this group's low health literacy may go unnoticed. When the patient and the health provider are of the same culture and language, a lack of questions is assumed to mean understanding. However, when a medical error is detected, doctors discover their patients are functionally illiterate.

Barriers to effective communication in healthcare
General health literacy level at the fourth grade. (health message image by gajatz from

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