Medical care is complex; when you add in the limitations of human performance, it is critical that we have standardised communication tools and create a just culture which allows all members of the multidisciplinary team (regardless of experience or seniority) to speak up if they have a safety concern. The aim is to create a shared mental model within all team members, so everyone involved has the same perception and expectations of the scenario.
“Human factors science tells us that the inherent limitations of human memory, effects of stress and fatigue, the risks associated with distractions and interruptions, and limited ability to multitask ensure that even skilled, experienced providers will make mistakes.” (Leonard et al, 2004). Effective communication methods create a well-understood plan of care, which can greatly reduce the chances of error and, consequently, patient harm.
Communication can be divided into one-way or two-way communication.
Key points when communicating
- Use two-way communication to create a closed feedback loop.
- Use open questions, such as ‘What’ or ‘When’.
- If the recipient can only answer yes or no, the answer is likely to be automatic and potentially biased. Questions that invite yes or no answers are often – even without meaning to be – leading questions. As humans we do not want to disappoint each other. If the answer is yes or no, it is more difficult for the recipient to give a true opinion, express concerns or disagree because the question intrinsically has an expected answer.
- Using open questions involves the recipient and means they have to think about their response.