Communication is an important feature of patient safety and quality of care. The patient’s rights and need for effective communication is customary in healthcare organizations. Effective communication is understood by both persons. And it typically operates in both directions–communication that simplifies the message. Barriers are the factors that hinder or interrupt healthcare communication. These barriers to communication include differences in language, cultural differences and low health literacy. By recognizing and using preventative measures for these barriers, healthcare staff can communicate effectively.
The growing diversity of our nation brings more healthcare providers and corporations into contact with patients with different languages. Effective communication is at risk in such cases. The language differences itself are the leading obstacle to effective communication. Next, this language barrier is usually not immediately obvious. Patients, who considered themselves capable in English, were not. Further, physicians and hospital staff who thought they were fully proficient in another language adds to the problem because they were not.
Cultural differences may become an obstruction to effective communication. The cultural perceptions of health, sickness, and medical care of patients and families may differ with that of the clinicians or organization. A person’s perception of the world and his or her comprehension of a word or sentence are affected by culture. Understanding a culture is not synonymous with proficiency of the language. Further, a shared culture does not translate into a shared language. Speaking the same language and being born in the same location does not automatically mean sharing all the elements of a particular culture. Another potential barrier to effective communication and care is the cultural nuances in verbal and nonverbal communication.
Health Literacy Barriers
People with poor literacy skills are especially challenged by most health information. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that there is a huge disparity between how people receive and comprehend health information. Language and cultural barriers are linked with low health literacy. Low health literacy is also observed in patients who are adept in English and who are a part of the collective American culture. There is a high risk this group’s low health literacy may go unnoticed. When the patient and the health provider are of the same culture and language, a lack of questions is assumed to mean understanding. However, when a medical error is detected, doctors discover their patients are functionally illiterate.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Kayla Lorday has been helping nursing students complete health-related papers and reports since 2001. She holds a Master of Science in atmospheric science from Colorado State University. Lorday is a holistic/alternative medicine enthusiast.