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Communication: a fundamental skill

16 June 2016

Communication: a fundamental skill

Communication: The Fundamental Skill for any Medical Professional


The greatest employee attribute

In today's job market you'll find a whole host of buzzwords on a CV application, from "detail orientated" to "ambitiously driven". But what skill do future employers really want to see?  

The long, overlooked ability to communicate well in any situation, an essential tool that is now flying past other skills such as visual, written, and electronic and leaving them trailing behind.

A recent study from Iowa State University found that communication ranked highest as the most desired skill by future employers; specifically, oral and interpersonal communication. After interviewing and gathering responses from over 52 employers working in a range of fields such as health sciences, business and social care, each employer was asked about the types and frequency of communication an intern would use in an average day. Over 165 different communication skills were identified. 

“When an employee is hired, that person is expected to have a blend of communication skills. Some positions are going to be more technical and may require a greater emphasis on writing skills, but there are hundreds of jobs in which students are going to be expected to have a combination of all skills,” said Tina Coffelt, lead author and an assistant professor of Communication and English Studies.

Communications Coach Robin Kermode agrees that interaction is essential and believes making people feel valued is key in the work setting environment, whether that be interacting with co-workers, business associates or patients.

"People often tell me that they don’t talk to clients, they just talk to colleagues. They sometimes forget that clients are human too and we must speak to everyone in the same way," he said.

But how do we best go about implementing this?

Kermode advises us to make conversation relevant, make people feel respected and make people feel human. Communication does not rely solely on verbal interaction, effectively listening to what another person is saying and finding ways to connect and extend conversation is just as essential in forging relationships.

Communication in the dental practice

On a typical day, dental professionals will meet people of all ages and backgrounds, with varying medical problems. As such, they need to be equipped with good communication skills that can help them to provide the best care and treatment for each individual patient.

Researchers at King's College London identified a reluctance in dentists to explain to patients if they were looking for signs of oral cancer during consultations, and many feared using the word cancer altogether. To combat this, an oral cancer communication guide was developed and implemented to help dental practitioners feel confident in raising the issue of oral cancer in everyday appointments, and without causing anxiety.

The findings positively suggested that there was a reduction in communication barriers related to oral-cancer discussions and a significantly higher number of dentists informed patients that they were being screened for oral cancer. Dentists also noted an increase in confidence when beginning conversations about the risks and red flags associated with oral cancer diagnosis.

This is a significant finding as 91% of oral cancer cases are preventable and regular screening and routine appointments can be paramount in spotting and reversing early signs of the disease.

An aging population

Over ten million people in the UK are aged over 65 and this is set to almost double to around 19 million by 2050.

Treating elderly patients may pose its own communication barriers when it comes to providing the best possible healthcare. Healthcare professionals could be faced with patients who have a sensory or cognitive decline, a lack of health literacy and an overall deterioration in health as a person ages.

However, doctors at the Calabasas Dental Institute have found a few simple steps can help dentists to improve their care for elderly patients and that these points can be incorporated into any dental practice.

The first proposal was for patients to write down their questions before their appointments as results showed patients were more likely to raise two or more concerns. Longer appointments and active listening were the biggest factors in reversing the main cause of complaints in the elderly.

"Many of my newer patients complain that their previous dentists never took the time to listen to them or their concerns," said Dr. Greg Rubin, of the Calabasas Dental Institute. Avoiding jargon and overwhelming patients, but repeating key messages and maintaining eye contact also proved to be successful in building positive relationships when treating older patients.

However, Rubin argues that these points are nothing new and should simply be a part of everyday human interaction for healthcare professionals.

“Being passionate, personable and respectful is the foundation of any good dental practice...whether I’m talking about crowns, dental implants, or general cosmetic dentistry... I treat all of my older patients as if they are part of my family, with the utmost respect," he said.

Communication breakdown and the consequences

In addition, a recent court hearing highlighting a severe lack of patient care in the dental environment has shown just how vital good communication skills are. Dr Zuber Bagasi, a former award-winning dentist from Bolton, was found to have failed his patient in a multitude of ways resulting in significant harm to the patient.

The hearing criticised Dr Bagasi's inability to provide his patient with an adequate written patient plan or standard of care, failure to address the patient's concerns and keep an adequate record of the treatment, and failing to record their consent to the treatment.

As a result of this, the patient received poor medical treatment resulting in bone damage as the dentist also failed to properly prepare the site for implant when providing the patient with implants and crowns.

Summing up the poor standard of care given by the dentist, the General Dental Council (GDC) Professional Conduct Committee said:

 "It is evident from your CV that, at the time you treated Patient A, you had the necessary qualifications and experience to carry out implants. Nevertheless, despite your level of experience, you failed to provide Patient A with an adequate standard of care. The committee concluded that the facts were serious enough to amount to misconduct".

A skill for life

Good communication can be the catalyst in creating a positive dental experience for patients each time they visit. It can be the difference in effectively overcoming barriers, helping healthcare professionals connect with their patients and making them feel comfortable in expressing any anxieties they may have.

A skill that is always evolving and can be used in all aspects of life, communication can be developed and improved on at any time to help you succeed personally and professionally.

To learn more about Healthcare Learning's CPD Communicating With Your Patients, please click here.

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