Effective communication: It really is a two-way street

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When an inter-departmental survey indicated VGH’s Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine consultant interactions and communication could be improved to optimize patient care, a group of physicians decided to do something about it. Drs. Kaitlin Lee, Joseph Bednarczyk, and Iain McCormick applied for VPSA funding for their project entitled Emergency and Internal Medicine Consultant Relations. The result was a half-day workshop on Optimizing Communication for Excellence. Twenty physicians attended the October 11 session, which was led by Callie Bland, a professional certified coach and registered nurse.

“Consultant interactions affect patient care,” said Dr. Bednarczyk. “We wanted to focus on communication issues as we felt we could all learn to communicate more effectively. We’d like to move to a place where we have a sense of being a team. That would make our workplace more enjoyable and increase our productivity.”

“There are numerous challenges for physicians to communicate effectively,” said Ms. Bland. “They may be experiencing burnout, which compromises our ability to communicate effectively. Physicians have not had much training or development in effective communication skills. They also don’t receive regular and structured feedback on these skills from those they interact with at work. There is also the challenge of trying to implement effective communication skills in a complex fast-paced health-care environment. You don’t always work with the same people all the time and there is a need to establish trust during brief interactions with both colleagues and patients.”

The workshop, which was created by the UBC Continuing Professional Development program and adapted specifically to meet the group’s needs, had several objectives:

  • enhance communication skills
  • recognize common communication patterns
  • identify and apply qualities of a learning conversation
  • practice applying a structured communication approach
  • identify and commit to incorporating newly honed communication skills

Throughout the workshop, participants learned about the assumptions, feelings and values they bring to their consultations.

“When you can articulate your own assumptions, feelings and values and understand another person’s, communication will be more effective,” said Ms. Bland. “Learning conversations, rather than judging ones, are complex. It requires intentional practice. The more you incorporate these skills the more likely it is there will be a culture shift.”

All the physicians had the opportunity to practice walking through the Experience Cube, stating their observations, thoughts, feelings, and wants during specifically relevant scenarios as well as learning to use this method to listen to others. They also learned techniques to de-escalate conversations that go awry.

Participants were enthusiastic about the skills they learned and were eager to apply these.

“I hadn’t taken time to think about how much emotions and feelings impact our communications, but clearly they do,” said Dr. Gina Gill. “The workshop gave me lots to think about and I look forward to employing some of the new techniques on my next shift.”

“We wanted the workshop to give us some tools to improve communication in the workplace,” said Dr. Iain McCormick. “In our fast-paced environment, we don’t get time to reflect on our interactions and we often go home emotionally charged. It was helpful to realize that my colleagues in my own and other specialties have the same challenges.”

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