Time for plain speaking

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Patient information, Talking care

Health literacy was top of the agenda at this year’s Patient Information Forum (PIF) conference, and got me thinking about how much we assume people understand about health and care.

Health literacy has been defined as: ‘The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.’

Recent research has found that 43% of people aged 16-65 are unable to effectively understand and use health information, and this rises to 61% if maths is involved. This means that between as many as 21m people of working age in the UK may not be able to access the information they need to become and stay healthy.

People who generally have limited literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills – including those whose first language is not English – are likely to have particular problems, but health can be a challenging area for any of us, especially in making sense of complex information; medicines management is recognised as a particularly tough one.

You also have to take into account the emotional aspects – being in a situation where you need medical care, particularly after receiving a serious diagnosis, is bound to mess with your thinking and ability to absorb new information. Ageing can affect a person’s literacy and numeracy levels, in addition to cognitive and physical impairment making it harder for older people to hear, see, remember and make sense of what they read or are told.

NHS Change Day – real people, real communication

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Effective communication, Talking care

NHS Change Day is a wonderful, inspiring example of what can happen when people are encouraged to communicate in their own way, honestly and openly. Over 382,000 individual pledges online show that NHS staff in every sort of role, NHS suppliers, patients and members of the public have all made a commitment, in writing, to do something that will make a difference.

To borrow another large organisation’s slogan – every little helps. Reading specific pledges is a fascinating exercise in its own right and in offering an insight into the day-to-day work of many people within the NHS. The words they use, their tone of voice – even in a short sentence – show that they care, and that what they have pledged to do is something they personally see as important.

From rhetoric to reality

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Internal communication, Talking care

A recent report from The Point of Care Foundation is a breath of fresh air, as is the charity itself. Formed last May in the wake of the Francis Report, its goal is to provide practical solutions to improve both the patient and staff experience. The fact that Robert Francis is one of its trustees suggests the foundation means business.

Staff care: how to engage staff in the NHS and why it matters, its first report, makes the case plainly. There is a gap “between conceptual debates about culture and staff engagement and the reality of life in the NHS”. This needs to be bridged because the experience of healthcare staff has a massive direct impact on the experience of patients. It’s the same point I made in a masterclass on internal communication I gave at a conference on improving patient care in December (you can find a link to it here). At the heart of improvement are staff who feel valued and confident that when they make suggestions for change or raise concerns these will be listened to and acted upon.

First steps to improving communication

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Communication planning, Talking care

I recently gave a masterclass on internal communication at the Improving Patient Care conference. My main point was that poor communication and not listening to staff or making them feel engaged are often underlying factors when things go wrong in healthcare. On a very basic level, if people don’t understand what they’re meant to do, or have clear guidance to follow, then errors are inevitable.

One of the issues I raised was that organisations need to find out exactly what communication already happens, and what impact it has. After all, how can you improve if you don’t know what you’re currently doing, if there are any gaps, or if things aren’t working as well as they could be?

I’m a big believer in carrying out comprehensive communication audits as a worthwhile investment of time and effort. If you do it properly, you’ll involve a variety of staff, which is a chance to hear their views on communication generally as well as in relation to specific processes, responsibilities, activities and channels.

And just by carrying out this exercise, you are demonstrating a real commitment to taking communication seriously.

Give everyone a voice

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Communication planning, Talking care

I’ve just had an article published on a website focusing on health and social care reform. The gist of my piece is that any organisation can benefit from making an effort to listen to what its staff have to say.

The other side of the coin is the negative impact of then ignoring not just any concerns they may raise, particularly about quality of care, but their ideas and thoughts on how practices and systems could be improved.

Not only may you miss out on some extremely useful insight and realistic suggestions for change for the better, but by not taking on board what frontline practitioners in particular have to say, or perhaps taking some action as a result but not letting them know that you’ve done so, gives out very negative messages about the perceived value of their opinions and, implicitly, their skills, knowledge and the work they do.

This is clearly not good for employee relations generally, engagement or motivation. And if you do not show willing to take their views seriously, it could lead to a situation where, should they have major concerns, they may see only two options – keeping their worries to themselves or waiting and taking more extreme ‘whistle-blowing’ action at a stage when it is harder to find a rapid and effective solution.