The effective communication of information and coordination of team activities is essential to providing safe patient care.
Effective teamwork and communication are just two aspects of the 'non-technical' skills required to ensure patient safety, and it is important to view them as part of this wider portfolio of skills and competencies.
The teams of healthcare professionals that deliver care are multidisciplinary with a wide range of expertise and specialisms, and their activities can often be widely distributed in time and space. Building effective teams under such circumstances can be challenging and takes focused attention and effort.
Communication problems are routinely cited in patient safety incidents because communication is so central to everything healthcare professionals have to do.
Making sure that teams communicate effectively is therefore central to managing and improving patient safety – it binds people together and allows many individuals to act with a common purpose and with coordinated activity.
Effective communication is not just about providing the right information at the right time. It is also about anticipating the needs of others, packaging information in ways that are practical and relevant to the task at hand, and being mindful of the different perspectives and knowledge that others in a team might have.
Tools to improve communication
A range of tools and methods exist to help ensure that communication is effective, practical and timely.
These include the 'SBAR' method developed in the nuclear submarine service, clinical handover routines, and safety briefings which help to establish patient safety as a regular topic of conversation and consideration within organisations.