The Importance of Communication: Oral and Written

Communication is one of the most vital components in health care. You will not only have to be able to communicate your ideas, but you will also need to be able to understand and listen to your patients in order to learn about their complaints and issues.

You need to be able to speak clearly. Many times you will need to think on your feet and respond quickly and accurately. You might be barking orders during a resuscitation effort, or you may be calling in a new prescription to the pharmacy. Not only do you need to have a clear and accurate understanding of what you are communicating, but the listener on the other end of the defibrillator paddles or the telephone needs to be able to understand you.

Written communication also needs to be accurate. Legibility is important. Many avenues are being used, and new ones explored, especially in the technology department, to eliminate issues with the physician's notoriously illegible scribble. You must be able to document your findings, your actions, and the outcomes. This means you need to be able to write something similar to a short story or essay about your experience with the patient at each given time. Sometimes it will be very short, and other times it must be detailed and even lengthy. The documentation is important so that the person coming in after you has a clear picture of the diagnosis or identified problem, the care given, and the response or outcome.

If English is not your first language, you may need to take a course or two to improve your skills. There are many “English as a second language” (ESL) courses available from community colleges or community adult schools. Some courses concentrate on either oral or written language skills, so be sure to take the ones most pertinent to your needs.


All health care documentation is part of a legal record and could be subpoenaed at any given time in the future. Remember: If it's not documented, you didn't do it! Your documentation is your proof. It can also be evidence against you, so you must always be accurate and truthful, even if you made an error.

In the event that writing just isn't your strong suit, there are remedical courses or courses in subjects such as business English that can teach you how to write things in clear, specific, and concise terms.

A speech class will be beneficial as well to ensure that you can speak clearly, and that you get over the fear of speaking in front of a crowd. There may never be a need to address a large audience, but in the event of an emergency, timidity in calling out instructions in front of strangers simply will not work.

If your patient has something to tell you, you must stop talking and listen! Reiterate what you think you heard and ask questions if you don't understand. Never assume anything, and always get verification. Verification and validation of the patient's feelings, concerns, and observations is important to achieve effective communication, as well as to diagnose and treat the issues at hand.


Effective communication includes being a good listener as well as a good speaker. Communication is a two-way process. The first lesson in this process is to understand that you cannot listen if you are speaking. And when you are speaking you must have the undivided attention of the listener.

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