Barriers to effective communication in a hospital

Written by teresa o'hanlon
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Barriers to effective communication in a hospital
Communication barriers impede quality care. (The doctor and the patient image by Vladimir Usatschenko from

Effective communication within hospitals depends on efficient patient care coordination, proper use of technology, and sound communication management procedures. Barriers to any of these can impede the effective transfer of information among hospital staff. According to the American Hospital Association, good communication in the health-care setting is becoming harder to achieve with complex technology, increased patient needs and a lack of resources.

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Patient Care Coordination

Patient-centred communication allows doctors and nurses to reach populations entering hospitals from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. According to a communication barriers study produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, non-English speaking patients often encounter inappropriate medical treatment and hospitalisation because of the language barrier between patient and doctor. Hospitals often lack the time and money needed to initiate effective communication strategies, such as creating community advisory boards and recruiting a diverse staff of health-care workers.

Language barriers can lead to inappropriate treatment.
Language barriers can lead to inappropriate treatment. (doctor visiting image by TEMISTOCLE LUCARELLI from

Health Information Technology

With advances in technology, hospital workers are becoming more reliant on high-tech devices and less on forms of written communication. Pagers, computers and cell phones keep doctors and nurses electronically connected, but more wiring can create more grievous errors. According to the National Center of Policy Analysis, health information systems can intensify problems when electronic medical records contain false information that is relied upon by hospital staff. A 2010 University of California study reported that the simple use of whiteboards and dry erase markers by bedside nurses were effective communication tools, not to be replaced by high-tech equipment.

Wired hospitals can multiply communication errors.
Wired hospitals can multiply communication errors. (nurse holds a cell phone image by alma_sacra from

Communication Management Procedures

Shorter hospital stays, higher nurse-to-patient ratios and a hectic health-care environment have created gaps in communication and led a variety of health-care organisations to suggest ways hospitals can improve communication practices. The Minnesota Hospital Association produced a guidelines and basic communicative terminology booklet to encourage hospitals to identify and employ communication management procedures.

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