Communication for Patient Safety
Communication is essential for patient safety

Communication is essential for patient safety


Internationally communication has been recognized as an essential element of patient safety.


Teamwork and communication are critical for ensuring reliable and safe health care delivery.[2]

Communication as an essential element in patient safety.

Communication can protect patients from human error, from our error!

This 4 minute video produced by the World Health Organization highlights how presently accepted communication styles and behaviours can actually cause, or contribute to, adverse events.



World Health Organization



List 3 things about your workplace that came to mind when you were watching this video.

As you work through this module, consider how the material and ideas presented here can help you to address these issues in your workplace.

Patient Safety Solutions

The World Health Organization has focused on Patient Safety Solutions. This phrase describes "any system design or intervention that has demonstrated the ability to prevent or mitigate patient harm stemming from the processes of health care." The purpose of the solutions is to help providers to develop processes to prevent human errors from actually reaching patients.


In April 2007, the International Steering Committee approved nine inaugural patient safety solutions, the solutions related to communication are in bold[3]:

1. Look-Alike, Sound-Alike Medication Names

Confusion about drug names is one of the most common causes of medication error and is a worldwide concern. Confusion can be created by brand or generic drug names and packaging.

2. Patient Identification

Failure to correctly identify patients is widespread and ongoing This often leads to medication, transfusion and testing errors; wrong person procedures; and the discharge of infants to the wrong families.

3. Communication During Patient Hand-Overs

Gaps in hand-over (or hand-off) communication between patient care units, and between and among care teams, can cause serious breakdowns in the continuity of care, inappropriate treatment, and potential harm for the patient.

4. Performance of Correct Procedure at Correct Body Site

Wrong procedure or wrong site surgery is preventable and is usually the result of miscommunication and unavailable, or incorrect, information. The lack of a standardized preoperative process is a major contributing factor to these type of errors.

5. Control of Concentrated Electrolyte Solutions

While all drugs, biologics, vaccines and contrast media have a defined risk profile, concentrated electrolyte solutions that are used for injection are especially dangerous.

6. Assuring Medication Accuracy at Transitions in Care

Medication errors occur most commonly at transitions. Medication reconciliation is a process designed to prevent medication errors at patient transition points.

7. Avoiding Catheter and Tubing Mis-Connections

The design of tubing, catheters, and syringes currently in use is such that it is possible to inadvertently cause patient harm through connecting the wrong syringes and tubing and then delivering medication or fluids through an unintended wrong route.

8. Single Use of Injection Devices

One of the biggest global concerns is the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), and the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) because of the reuse of injection needles.

9. Improved Hand Hygiene to Prevent Health Care-Associated Infection (HAI)

It is estimated that at any point in time more than 1.4 million people worldwide are suffering from infections acquired in hospitals. Effective hand hygiene is the primary preventive measure for avoiding this problem.

5 of the 9 solutions for patient safety (the ones in bold) are DIRECTLY related to communication and information flow.




Communication is not just what happens as a by product of our work, it takes conscious effort and determination to get it right, and to keep improving.


Communication is actually a set of skills that we can learn and develop and apply in different ways.

Effective communication can make our work lives easier, but more importantly it can improve patient safety.




Before we look at communication skills, let’s look at the barriers to communication in health care...




2. Canadian Patient Safety Institute. Effective Teamwork and Communication to Enhance Patient Safety.Available from:

3. WHO Collaborating Centre for Patient Safety Solutions. Available from:

All references for this section