The ability to communicate information and ideas effectively is increasingly recognized as critical to the success of the healthcare system. Effective communication is required not only for successful interactions between individuals and their health care providers but also between health care providers themselves. As research and best practice initiatives continue to grow, the need for researchers to effectively communicate with these groups is also important. However, there are many challenges inherent to health communication, including low health literacy, cultural diversity, contradicting/confusing health information as well as a lack of training for health care professionals in communicating with consumers. These challenges are further exacerbated by health care professionals who may lack the ability to communicate effectively across professions. The health care system and science communication overall can be made more accessible to individuals using a range of strategies including critically reflecting on assumptions. In this article, several root causes of difficulty in communication will be discussed, and practical suggestions given to enable more effective communication of ideas between individuals with differing backgrounds in the health care system. For those working in health care and the sciences, an awareness of how best to enable effective communication presents important opportunities for the future.
The ability to communicate ideas effectively is increasingly recognized as critical to the success of the healthcare system. Effective communication is required not only for successful interactions between individuals and their health care providers but also between health care providers themselves. Similarly, effective communication of ideas is a critical competency required by the researcher who plans to successfully share information with members of the public and/or to collaborate with researchers from other disciplines. This article will explore some of the unique characteristics of communication both with consumers and between health care professionals. Many points in the health care system require effective knowledge transfer between health care providers and consumers. Every day, individuals make decisions about health promotion and lifestyle that affect their overall well-being: e.g., what to eat, whether to exercise or smoke, among others. Consumers must also make decisions about different types of preventive care such as vaccinations and visits to the doctor. They must make sense of health and science reports they read in the media (e.g., Bisphenol A causing cancer? Vitamin D preventing multiple sclerosis?) and make decisions about whether to integrate new practices into their own lives. Effective transfer of knowledge also needs to occur between providers themselves in order to enable best outcomes for consumers. Those who enter the formal health care system as patients must make even more decisions within a complex system that can be difficult for individuals to navigate (2). Within hospitals, they may be challenged to communicate with a large number of health care professionals and have to make difficult treatment decisions. The issue is compounded by shorter lengths of stay and increasing incidence of chronic disease and multiple disorders requiring consumers to manage their own care at home, often with minimal support from health care providers. The need for health care professionals and researchers to effectively communicate with consumers will only grow in its urgency. In Ontario alone, almost 80% of people over the age of 45 have a chronic condition. Of those, approximately 70% suffer from two or more chronic conditions (3). Those managing their own care need effective health information and education to know how to do so (4). For example, managing diet, checking blood pressure and managing insulin may be among health related tasks needing to be performed daily...
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