Clear Communication

It’s a self-evident fact to those in the healthcare industry, but might not be obvious to those outside of it. The telephone is not a tool to transmit psychic thoughts. You wouldn’t think it, the way some people expect others to read their minds and come to the same conclusions… without the information.

Take the following example, a doctor who calls with the following info:

“Hello, ICU? This is Dr Toot from [Department-of-Choice]. I’ve got a problem here… This patient, Mr Loh, he’s sick and is now short of breath.”

And expects the ICU man to reply:

“Really?! That’s horrible! I’ll get a bed for him straightaway and send a porter down for him. Because I know he’s got severe COPD and needs ventilation.”

Um. No, that’s not how it works. What happens is that the ICU man is going to want to know what happened. Now if the first doctor had said the following:

“Hello, ICU? Dr Toot from [Department-of-Choice]. I need an ICU bed. There’s a patient here Mr Loh, 76-year-old smoker with COPD, admitted in Type II respiratory failure with a respiratory rate of 32 breaths/min confirmed by an ABG showing respiratory acidosis pH 7.10, pCO2 60 mmHg on admission. We put him on positive airway ventilation 1 hour ago but he’s not responding well, his pH went up to 7.12.”

Note that there is

  1. Clear identification
  2. Intent
  3. Reasoning and background information

Similarly, the same approach should be present in communication outside the healthcare system.

Recently, a friend called a number of friends with a car problem. What I heard in 1 min of conversation went somewhere along the lines, of:

“Hello. I have a problem. My car won’t start.”

There was no mention of batteries, no mention of jumper cables, no mention of what she wants.

Now, she later rants that guys are somewhere along the lines of useless because instead of jumping to her rescue, these guys actually do stupid things like clarifying how the car died (was the light left on? she replied she didn’t know.) It sounds like she wasn’t too happy that the people called lacked this incredible mind-reading ability.

Think of the time and frustration that could have been saved if she had just said:

“Hello. I have a problem, my car battery’s dead. Would you happen to be driving in the vicinity and available to help please? I have jumper cables.”

Short, succinct and relevant. Communication! Useful in every aspect of life, not just if lives are at stake.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by plhu on February 3, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    ditto for friends who message “help, my computer just died after making some funny sounds.”

    btw I do have a starter cable in my car and it has come in useful, in case we’re in the same hospital next time.

    Reply

  2. That’s great! I’ll keep that in mind. Aren’t two cables usually needed, though?

    I don’t have jumper cables in my car. Why? Beats me.

    Reply

  3. Posted by the friend who ranted on February 4, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    FYI.

    A) You were the first person I talked to then (after the first 3 drivers I called were clearly unavailable), although not the only one. I had no way of confirming the problem then, but by the second call, I figured the car battery was really dead, so the later conversations evolved to include the statement “my car battery died”.

    B) I DID ask the guys I called if they were anywhere nearby, or would be when I’d be home (to which they asked why, without necessarily answering my question, so I told them my car battery’s dead and I’d like to get a solution asap).

    After which they asked how I know the car battery’s dead (which I told them, along with possible “how-it-happened”), so they eventually said “sounds like your car battery is dead”. Which, going by the flow of the conversation as already described, I had already told them, and hence I considered it useless information.

    C) Unavailability (or “inability to come to my rescue”) was not what annoyed me. When I ask questions about availability, I expect to hear an answer of availability – “yes” or “no”. Not an explanation of the problem, least of all when I already know it. Every other guy that didn’t give me an explanation at least managed to give me a “no”, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t get frustrated still at those who did otherwise.

    D) I did not say anything about guys being useless. I said men should learn to tell whether women are asking for their expertise or their availability, because conversation becomes pointless when women ask for only one and men answer with only the other. Like this line from the song “Ironic” – 10,000 knives when all you need is a spoon.

    I assure you the 3 components of communication were present throughout the conversations.

    1. Clear identification – of information I wanted to get, expressed in questions
    2. Intention – to find out if it might be feasible to ask them to come help me
    3. Reasoning and background information – my car clearly had a problem, I needed to use it within the next 20+ hours (and no guarantee that drivers #1 and #2, aka parents, were available to help out), so I had to try and get it solved before the time I needed to take it out.

    However, yours was the exception because I hadn’t figured out what was wrong yet before I called (except that I probably needed a driver who could help), and we also got cut halfway through the conversation as I had to take another call.

    Nevertheless, thank you very much for highlighting the importance of clear communication. I should put a disclaimer on my blog, stating that it is an emotional dumping ground, and readers should therefore be careful what they pick from it to chew on.

    Reply

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