A specialist Macmillan nurse from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, has warned healthcare staff against the use of jargon and euphemisms, particularly when communicating bad news. Whilst speaking at a conference at the University of Birmingham, Ingela Oberg highlighted that many people walk away from such conversations without fully understanding the important information shared with them, or the consequences.
Ms Oberg explained that it was often the good intentions of nursing and care staff and their natural inclination to avoid causing distress, that drove them to use euphemisms or ‘sugar coat’ their words. However, in order to avoid misleading those involved, she advised the use of plain English and honesty, to ensure important messages were not miscommunicated.
Read on to learn how you can improve your own communication, particularly when sharing bad news and difficult messages.
The need for clear communication is even more important when sharing information about care and treatment with older people who may have sensory or cognitive impairment. A previous report from the Royal College of General Practitioners has recommended a number of measures to help improve information sharing that you can use in your workplace. Whether you are sharing information yourself, or accompanying another professional, using the steps below can make life easier for the person in your care.
4 Steps to Improve the Sharing of Difficult News
- Arrange appropriate support: Always aim to have a third party available to support the service user and to ensure they understand what has been discussed. This may be a key worker or a family member but the presence of someone who supports the individual to ask questions and ensure they have heard and understood what has been said will greatly improve the quality of communication.
- Get the language right: Encourage visiting professionals to use language that the service user will understand. Older people in particular may use different terms for particular illnesses or treatments e.g. “fluid on the lungs” rather than pulmonary oedema. Newer treatments or investigations may be completely unknown to some individuals so knowledge should never be taken for granted.
- Check understanding: Ask the service user questions following the conversation to assess their level of understanding of what has been discussed and how well this has been retained. If you sense that the message has not been fully understood, further help may be required.
- Use additional resources: Consider the use of written materials to support understanding, particularly the many excellent publications available from specialist support organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support or the Alzheimer’s Society. Having the opportunity to read information at a convenient time when the individual is most receptive will help improve understanding and retention.
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