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.  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 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.  Nurses who thought they were fully proficient in another language adds to
the problem because they were not.   Nurses can intimidate or confuse patients with the use of medical terms.  

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.  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.

People with poor literacy skills are especially challenged by most health information.  There is now a huge disparity
between how people receive and comprehend health information.  Langue and cultural barriers are like with low health
literacy.  It is also observed in patient who are adept in English and who are a part of the collective American culture.  
There is a high risk this group’s low 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.  Some patients, however, are
functionally illiterate.

Being mindful of your communication strengths and weaknesses can help you overcome communication barriers.  The
next step is to learn as much as you can about your patient or who you are communicating with.  This will help you
choose the best way of expressing your message and ensuring that it is heard.  Finally address your communication
weakness by gaining the knowledge and skills you need to be effective.  

Interacting with individuals from another culture can add even more dimensions to communication barriers.  What is
acceptable in one culture is not always appropriate in another.  This includes verbal and nonverbal aspects of the
message as well as other characteristics of context, such as time, place, and relationships involved in the interaction.

Reducing barriers that affect effective communication can improve every level of your communication, from
interpersonal through mediated communication.  Effective communication in the work place leads to quicker problem
solving, stronger decision making. increased productivity, and strengthened relationships with your colleagues.  
Effective communication is essential to be able to develop therapeutic relationships with patients.  You will be able to
identify problems accurately from the patient’s perspective.  You will be able to plan and deliver appropriate care for
the patient.

Giving your full attention to:
•        The verbal message
•        The tone of voice
•        The patient’s posture
•        The patient’s gestures
•        Understand thoughts, feelings, and behavior


Revised 12/5/2016
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