7 Barriers to Effective Communication in Healthcare

Are you a healthcare provider who finds it challenging to communicate well with patients? You’re not alone. Many providers face the same challenge.

What’s the downside of poor healthcare communication?

When you don’t communicate well with patients, it causes problems for you, your employer, and your patients. Poor healthcare communication results in:

  • Worse patient self-management, which leads to worse health outcomes. 

  • Inappropriate use of healthcare services, which leads to costlier, less efficient healthcare.

  • Lower patient satisfaction.

  • Lower rewards from value-based programs for you and your employer. 

  • More legal problems for you and your employer.

7 communication barriers

Many providers find it challenging to communicate well with patients. Here are seven common barriers:

  1. Medical words

  2. Language differences

  3. Cultural differences

  4. Disabilities and other challenges

  5. Low health literacy

  6. Complexity of health topics

  7. Lack of time

We’ll look at each of these barriers in turn.

Barrier 1: Medical words

You may be comfortable using medical words such as “hypertension” and “CBC.” You probably learned these words during your education and training. You may use them when you communicate with other people in the medical field. Your patients, however, may find these words confusing.

Barrier 2: Language differences

You and your patients may not use the same language, or may not use it with the same ease. For instance, a patient may use Urdu, while you may prefer English.

Barrier 3: Cultural differences

You may have patients from a different culture. That is, you and your patients may have different beliefs and practices. These differences can make it harder to understand and trust each other.

Barrier 4: Disabilities and other challenges

Some patients have disabilities and other challenges that make it harder to communicate about health. For instance, they may have trouble seeing, hearing, talking, reading, or thinking.

Barrier 5: Low health literacy

Many people have low health literacy. That means they have trouble finding, understanding, and using health information. Even strong health literacy skills can falter at times of stress — such as a health crisis. And you can’t always tell when someone has low health literacy.

Barrier 6: Complexity of health topics

Health topics are complex, and the knowledge base is always changing. As a result, you may have trouble sharing health information in a way that your patients can understand and use.

Barrier 7: Lack of time

Finally, good health communication takes time. Yet your employer may limit how much time you spend with patients during and between visits.

You can overcome these barriers

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these communication barriers. To find strategies, check out the related content on this page.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Carolyn Cutilli and Sophia Wong, for their invaluable peer review and expert feedback, which significantly contributed to the enhancement of this article.

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