A study once found that less than half of hospitalised patients could remember their diagnosis or the names of their medications (IHC 2011).
Additionally, it is estimated that about 50% of patients with chronic illnesses do not take their medication in the way it was prescribed (Kim et al. 2018).
A simple solution for these issues - and others - is the delivery of clear and high-quality information to clients (Ciaglia 2017).
Effectively Communicating Information in Healthcare
Effective communication between staff and clients is an essential component of providing high-quality and safe care (ACSQHC 2016).
As well as improving client outcomes and satisfaction, effective communication is crucial in preventing errors, unnecessary distress and inappropriate interventions (ACSQHC 2016).
Every client has the right to access clear, timely information about the care they are receiving. You may assume the information you provide is easy to comprehend. Yet, 60% of Australians find it difficult to understand complicated healthcare concepts and information (Ciaglia 2017, OHO 2015).
Furthermore, communication issues are the third most common type of complaint received by the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO 2015). These communication complaints often include:
Poor attitude or manners from staff;
Incorrect or misleading information; and
Staff not accommodating the client’s special needs.
This suggests there is significant room for improvement.
If clients are not provided with adequate access to clear information, there may be implications such as:
Poor health outcomes;
Hospital sentinel events;
Adverse drug events;
Decreased quality of care; and
Clients Who are at Higher Risk of Harm
The following clients are at an increased risk of harm if presented with unclear or complicated information:
First Nations people;
People with a disability;
People who are homeless;
People who are culturally or linguistically diverse;
People with a mental illness;
People undergoing surgery;
People receiving palliative care;
People in intensive care units; and
People with several co-morbidities.
It is imperative that these clients are provided with information that matches their level of understanding, and that it is communicated in a clear manner.
Practical Tips for Conveying Information
As identified by the ACSQHC, many clients have a limited understanding of healthcare concepts. Individually gauge each client’s level of understanding and communicate with them accordingly.
Do not assume English proficiency or a client’s level of understanding.
Speak clearly and slowly.
Confirm that clients understand what has been explained to them.
Encourage the client to ask questions.
Improve your own health literacy skills so that you can communicate with clients more effectively.
Ensure the client can demonstrate an understanding of the information provided to them. Consider asking them to repeat it back to you.
Ensure an interpreter is available if required.
Ask the client about their needs and priorities.
Ensure the client is notified if they need any kind of follow-up.
Ensure the client is notified about any warning signs to look out for.
Describe the roles of each member of the care team.
Keep the client informed about their care plan.
Keep the client informed about expected timeframes, tests or procedures that need to be performed, why certain decisions are being made etc.
Check that the client is willing to follow any plans made.
Follow up with the client post-discharge to monitor their progress.
(OHO 2015; Vic DoH 2015; ACSQHC 2016)
Privacy of Client Healthcare Information
Under Australian privacy laws, clients are able to request access to their own health information from a health service provider. This information can only be requested by the client or a person they have authorised. This request may be rejected in some situations, for example, if it would threaten somebody else’s privacy or safety (OAIC 2019).
Healthcare providers are bound by law to maintain the privacy of client health information. Clients must provide consent for this information to be discussed with or passed on to other parties. The information must also be stored in a manner that protects the privacy of clients (Better Health Channel 2015).
All clients should be able to access adequate information about their condition and the services available to them. This must be communicated in a clear, easily-understandable manner so that clients are well-informed and able to exercise autonomy.