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Why effective nursing communication is everything is today’s health care environment

Publish Date: 5/22/2013

Q & A with Craig Deao, Studer Group


Effective communication is directly linked to safe and reliable patient care. Yet, communication skills are underdeveloped for many nurses and nurse leaders, according to Craig Deao, MHA, a member of the senior executive team for Studer Group and a national expert on leadership, accountability, patient experience, quality and safety.

In a recent interview with Periop Insider, Deao shared the areas where perioperative nurse communication can improve and why improving these skills is so critical in health care today.

Periop Insider: In efforts toward improved quality, high reliability and standardized care, what are the most important communication skills every perioperative professional must have today?

Deao: Perioperative professionals must have the interpersonal communication skills to be comfortable having challenging communications. We know that implementing evidence-based tools such as using key words in safety communication can improve safety. However, often these tools aren’t used because the person hasn’t been given the evidence-based skills needed to initiate the conversation—to confront a colleague in an objective way.

Good interpersonal skills are also essential for communicating clearly with patients and families, particularly when discharging the patient (the ultimate handoff).

Periop Insider: What are the most underdeveloped communication skills specific among perioperative nurses?

Deao: There is still a divide between clinical skills and interpersonal skills in health care. We see safe communication skills proven effective in other high stress, high stakes situations, such as the airline industry. For example, flight crews employ the “two-challenge rule” that makes it more likely for someone to speak up when they see an unsafe behavior, even when they aren’t the one in the position of authority.

Although such practices have been shown to work just as well in the perioperative setting for more than a decade, rarely do we see this forward communication practiced consistently among perioperative nurses.

Periop Insider: Do you observe multigenerational communication as a challenge among perioperative team members? How do you suggest leaders address this challenge?
Deao: We do see differences in communication styles among multigenerational teams. However, we have found evidence-based practices for standardized communication work well, no matter what generation—the key is having every team member agree to follow these standardized communication practices.

Nurse leaders do need to acknowledge that multigenerational differences are real, but a leader can’t allow these differences to diminish clear, effective team communication.

Periop Insider: In July you will co-coach AORN members to build these skills through the Compelling Communication Course. Who is your target audience for this course and what will participants walk away with?

Deao: This course will offer the practical tools needed for a range of perioperative professionals to walk away with communication knowledge and experience they can apply the day they step back into the workplace.

In addition to supporting patient safety, communication skills are also key in career advancement—health care executives agree it’s the “so-called” soft skills, like navigating challenging conversations that support career success. An added benefit is improved communication outside of work.

Nurse leaders will most definitely benefit from this course because they have such a halo role in their care environment to role model and coach effective communication skills. Team participation is also beneficial because it allows team members to learn together and be held accountable for using the skills in their workplace.

Periop Insider: Can you give us a preview of some of the evidence-based tactical tools and real life scenarios you will present during this two-day Compelling Communication Course?

Deao: The course is very interactive with a good portion of the course dedicated to skill development and practice in real-life scenarios experienced in the perioperative setting, such as preop and postop briefings, hand-offs and patient communication.
We focus strictly on practice (don’t expect to spend time sitting and listening to theory). For example, we talk about impact messages—a way to express an observed behavior in someone that needs to be changed. We outline the verbal and non-verbal tools needed and then participants can role-play to build the skills. When teams participate, this is an opportunity to address their own real-life scenarios outside of the workplace.

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