Digitisation places demands on communication in healthcare
Informing and teaching patients is an important task for nurses. They must be able to communicate with patients of different ages, with various needs and from different cultures, both during physical and digital meetings. Professor Inger K Holmström at MDH has conducted research on communication in healthcare.
“Communication will always be a fundamental and important skill for healthcare professionals,” says Inger K Holmström, Professor at the School of Health, Care and Welfare at MDH.
Inger's research focuses mainly on how healthcare professionals communicate by telephone, where patient care needs are assessed and communicated.
Communicating and assessing healthcare needs and recommending actions by telephone has slightly different requirements than during a physical healthcare meeting. It is essential that patient safety aspects are considered. As more and more healthcare is conducted remotely, it is important to highlight this.
In addition, when the elderly are cared for more often in their own home, this requires specific communication skills, according to Inger.
“As the proportion of elderly people is increasing in society, and more and more patient care is being carried out in the home, specific skills are needed around the communication challenges faced by the home care service and nursing professionals. For instance, elderly people could express existential anxiety or express their concerns in a vague and unclear way.”
Key aspects of communication
Currently, two different types of situations are often referred to where healthcare professionals need to communicate with the patient: patient-centred and person-centred. Inger describes the differences.
“Both patient and person-centred healthcare and communication are based on the sick person and that it is their agenda that should be the starting point in healthcare, instead of the healthcare professional's agenda, biomedicine and task orientation. The difference lies mainly in how the sick person is viewed. In patient-centred healthcare and communication, the sick person has the ‘patient role’. This implies a more passive role, to answer questions and receive care and treatment.”
“In person-centred healthcare and communication, the sick person is seen as an active co-creator of healthcare, who has expertise about themselves, their needs and how their life is affected by their illness. The healthcare meeting then becomes a meeting of experts, where healthcare professionals contribute with their knowledge of medicine and nursing. ”
Advantages and disadvantages of digitisation
According to Inger, digitising healthcare implies both pros and cons for communication.
“There are great advantages in, for example, an increased accessibility of healthcare across the country, which is otherwise very unequally distributed. Compare living in Norrland where you may have 250 km to the nearest clinic or living in Stockholm, that has a large selection of different healthcare providers. Digital care and the 1177 Healthcare Guide are also available in the evenings and weekends and are an easily accessible resource. Instead of putting your feverish child in the car and driving to a clinic where you risk getting other infections in a waiting room, you can stay at home and get assessment, advice and treatment. ”
“Some people also find it easier to talk on the phone about their concerns, as it is more anonymous and they find it easier to open up. At the same time, there is a risk with short healthcare meetings done by telephone and digitally, that underlying problems are not picked up, that they are too fast and are not suitable for handling more complex problems. There is also a risk of deficiencies in continuity and follow-up of treatment. In general, physical and digital healthcare meetings must complement each other, and be used when the respective type of care service will be most beneficial.”
When it comes to communication, there are some vital aspects that have an impact on the patient's experience and the quality of healthcare, according to Inger:
“Patients of all categories, such as the elderly and parents of young children, express the same thing: the most important thing is to be listened to, to be taken seriously and treated with respect and empathy.”
Newly published book
Inger has together with Lene Martin, Professor Emerita at MDH, Jessica Höglander, Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences at MDH, and Håkan Sandberg, Associate Professor of Healthcare Education at MDH, written the book "Communication in Healthcare". It is published by Studentlitteratur publishing company, with Lene Martin as editor.
“The book is new and has therefore not yet been included in the required reading lists on the various courses and study programmes. However, there has been a need for this type of book for a long time, especially in nursing programmes at both Bachelor’s and Master’s level. Other health sciences programmes and professionals can also benefit from it,” concludes Inger K Holmström.
Global sustainable development goals
MDH is conducting research in all of the UN’s global goals for sustainability and this area is linked to Goal number 10: Reduced Inequalities.