Health sciences education is complex and unique. Health providers must learn vast amounts of knowledge and technical procedures and essential non-technical skills – including leadership, situational awareness, decision-making, good communication, and teamwork. Despite the essential nature of communication skills, they are rarely taught formally in educational programs.
This blog will highlight key points to help educators and students learn more about team communication and essential non-technical skills.
Team Member Communication Skills
For the team to work harmoniously, all members need to be:
a. Engaged – with a clear focus on the current situation;
b. Efficient – reporting their actions and anticipating further action;
c. Able to translate their knowledge into action;
d. Respectful of the team, patients, and family.
Team Leader Communication Skills
The team leader directs an orchestra. As a conductor, if the team leader performs well, the final music is pleasant, even if one musician makes a mistake. However, the opposite is not true – if the leader fails, the team is more likely to fail. To communicate precisely, the leader needs to:
a. Have a closed-loop, direct, and clear communication;
b. Assume their role as a leader and assign tasks to each team member;
c. Be aware of the situation.
Assessing Communication Skills
There are several strategies to assess non-technical skills, such as communication. The most common are behavioral markers systems. These are assessment tools used to score a student, a health provider, or the entire team based on their attitudes. Currently, the most common behavioral markers systems used for a surgical environment are the NOTECHS (Non-technical Skills) and the NOTSS (Non-technical Skills for Surgeons). NOTECHS is an assessment tool focusing on team performance.
In contrast, NOTSS focuses on the team’s leader or the primary surgeon. Both tools have level II recommendations, and despite having a different focus, they show good inter-reliability scores. It means that if the leader does not perform well and does not get a good NOTSS score in a given scenario, the whole team will probably not have a good NOTECHS score.
Improving Communication Skills
The first thing is to assure a safer environment, where health providers can feel comfortable working on their skills. In a safer place, they will not suffer harassment or will feel embarrassed. If possible, surgical educators should be there to facilitate their training. That is one of the reasons why simulation is considered a gold-standard for improving communication skills. Besides removing the pressure of a real case, surgical educators can set different immersion levels to attend to each team’s or individual’s learning goals.
To improve and master these skills, health professionals should practice them deliberately, preferably in simulated scenarios, and include debriefings after each case.
- Communication skills are essential for healthcare. Improving them can prevent errors.
- Simulation is ideal for learning and practicing communication skills.
- To improve communication skills, evaluate each member and the entire team with appropriate assessment tools and promote frequent debriefing sections with your team.
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