Communication strategies

For health and social care professionals it can be difficult even when working face-to-face with patients and service users to gauge whether their information is being communicated and understood effectively. This can prove even more difficult when providing communication in written format, such as online, or over the telephone. People may hide any communication or understanding issues they have and may feel uncomfortable admitting that they are struggling with the information being provided. Therefore, it is key that practitioners communicate in an effective manner.

The communication methods you use may need to be tailored dependent on your audience, it is important to consider things such as:

  • Age
  • Culture
  • Illness
  • Language
  • Disability/sensory impairment

For example, when speaking to someone from a culture where certain medicines or food items would not be appropriate it is important to be aware of this to ensure that you can offer relevant information and also to support an ongoing relationship with the person. If provided with health information which is not acceptable or relevant people are likely to disengage and it may affect future interactions and support. Also consider other language and communication barriers, for example, those for whom English is not a first language or people with a sensory impairment.

When speaking to people try to:

  • Slow down and spend time explaining and listening wherever possible
  • Use plain, non medical language
  • Limit the amount of information provided at each meeting and use teach back and chunk and check to confirm understanding
  • Create a shame-free environment where people can ask questions and be open about anything they are unsure about

It is important to create an open and welcoming environment and let people know that they will be listened to and supported to explain any issues they may have. When attending appointments and consultations people may feel anxious and struggle to communicate effectively or ask the questions that they want or need to ask.

As well as spoken information there is a wide range of written information provided to people via health, this includes, information leaflets, forms, letters, results and medication instructions. When developing any written information it is key to involve the end user to ensure that it is fit for purpose and to ensure that the content and format is appropriate and understandable. Your communications team can assist in the development of materials and are experienced in plain language, however, you must make sure that using plain language on materials does not result in the messages or specific information being lost.

A large amount of information is now made available via the internet, it is important that the people you work with know what sites are reputable and trustworthy if this is a source of health information that they utilise. For example, in Scotland NHS Inform is the main website for health related information and people should be directed here in the first instance. If designing your own online information a health literacy guide for writing and designing easy-to-use health websites is available in the resources section.