Formal & Informal Communication Methods in Health Information

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Around the world, recent technological developments have increased the availability of health care information and services. Health care information communication focuses on the sharing of information among health care professionals and patients.

Traditionally, formal health care communication is associated with the use of official medical/scientific language in documentation and the adherence to systematic policies and procedures. On the other hand, informal communication is less defined by strict measures and is characterised by colloquial language. Both types of health information communication play important roles in shaping patient behaviour, ensuring patient safety and promoting the delivery of quality health care.

Although integrating new technology into health information communication has added a level of complexity to worldwide health care systems, properly implementing a communications plan that involves modern medical devices and online resources will enable organisations to better support the flow of communication between patients and providers, as well as the sharing of medical information among health care professionals.

Formal Health Care Communication Defined

As the borders of formal health care communication expand, health care organisations are modifying certain modes of communication delivery, but the objective remains the same: educate, inform and counsel patients in order to ensure patient safety and improve clinical outcomes. In the medical sector, formal communication is the documented exchange of information. This includes medical guidelines, patient reports, regulatory policies and other validated health care notifications, publications or statutes. Some examples of formal communication include medical education and instruction (continuing medical education and physician explanation of hospital policies to patients, for example), formal record systems and prescriptions.

Next Generation Health Care Communication

Currently, there is a large shift from the traditional medical record exchange systems to more advanced electronic health record systems (EHRs). According to the FCC, "E-prescribing component of EHRs helps avert known drug allergic reactions and potentially dangerous drug interactions, while facilitating the ordering of laboratory tests and reducing redundancy and errors." Similarly, the uptake of telemedicine is changing formal health care delivery. According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 50 per cent of patients with chronic disease fail to take their medication as prescribed. Telemedicine tools can help ensure that patients take their medications by providing real-time updates and reminders.

Informal Health Care Communication Defined

Informal health care communications have gained momentum as health information and online patient communities populate the World Wide Web. Medical information is cited as one of the most retrieved types of information on the web. Informal health care communication is commonly used by busy health care professionals providing patient updates as they cross in the hall. Another form of informal communication is health care media, press and advertisements, the discourse between patients and their social communities and certain communications between patients and health care professionals.

Next Generation Informal Health Care Communication

Over the last decade, patient participation in online communities from all over the world and retrieval of health care information from the Internet has increased substantially. Online patient communities are providing patients a way to connect with others confronting similar health ailments, leading to a sense of comfort and support for patients and families. One concern expressed by regulatory bodies is the spread of misinformation by sources that are not credible over the Internet. Nevertheless, providing health information via the Internet has enabled rural areas to access information pertaining to preventive health and disease symptoms.