Communicating health information

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Summary

This analysis analyzes health information communication in the context of an intervention for a family with bad eating habits. The interaction is between a health practitioner and patients, with the focus being mainly on two members of one family: Jane and her daughter, Holly. The main goal of this communication is to convey information, accompanied by an additional socio-emotional objective. The socio-emotional goal is the establishment of a partnership, through which Jane and Holly will eat better and lose some weight.

From the analysis, the practitioner demonstrates good skills in questioning, empathy, and reflection. However, there is evidence of poor listening, which may compromise obtaining client information. At the same time, the analysis notes the use of leading questions as a shortcoming in the communication. Nevertheless, the practitioner uses their non-verbal communication extremely well shown by her eye contact and facial expressions.

The context prompts description of the Health Belief and Elaboration Likelihood Models of communication. Both models attribute attitude and behavior to perception and consider the effectiveness of communication as a determinant of behavior and perceptions. Further review of the experience highlights possible conflicts and distress, in the form of self-blame by Jane in response to criticism by the practitioner and unwillingness to maintain the program by Holly. However, the use of empathy in communication works to resolve these issues.

The analysis concludes that the communication was effective as the practitioner accomplishes the information and partnership goals. However, the recommendation is that the practitioner requires improving their listening, which may enable more effective communication and reduce the time and effort requires for development of interventions.

Introduction

Clinical encounters between health practitioners and patients vary, with consultations typically involving talk among the participants. The encounter is an interaction of culture, whereby the culture of the patient differs from that of the practitioner (Berry, 2006, p. 40). The perceptions of patients about health differ from those of the practitioner, as does their level of knowledge and their attitudes. Health encounters and their communication, therefore, will often be guided by the purpose of the interaction (Berry, 2006). The nature of the interaction may require that alternative strategies be implemented in order to counter the occurrence of conflict or distress. This paper analyzes health communication in the context of the “You are what you eat” video clip, determining the communication approaches and conducting sufficient analysis to propose alternative strategies for effectiveness.

Goal of the Communication

Typically, communications between health providers and patients seek to fulfill socio-emotional goals or meet information objectives (Berry, 2006, p. 42). The communication, from the view of the health practitioner, intends to achieve two goals. One of the goals is to provide information, while the other is the building of partnerships as a socio-emotional task.

The practitioner focuses on exploring the house and highlighting some of the problems associated with the style of eating. Part of the communication focuses on Holly’s diet, where the recording enables the practitioner to demonstrate the type of food she has been consuming. The records of her consumption indicate the amount of sugar she has been taking, which the HP demonstrates using actual spoons of sugar on display. The evidence of the information goal is also clear in her enquiries about the headaches. The practitioner informs Jane and Holly that the reason for their headaches could be the caffeine content contained in their fuzzy drinks.

The socio-emotional goals in this context involve the creation of a partnership towards the accomplishment of a better diet. Socio-emotional goals will often vary depending on the health situation and the interests of the practitioner in these aspects (Schiavo, 2013, p. 104). As such, the creation of a partnership seems to be the main goal in this context. The practitioner has 8 weeks to get this family on a path of better health and consumption, and it is only through their cooperation that such a transformation can be accomplished.

Communication Skills

The choice of communication skills that a practitioner applies in their interaction is a strong determinant of the effectiveness in the accomplishment of goals. The basic communication skills for a health practitioner include questioning, explanation and provision of information, listening, reinforcement, and opening and closing of the formal interactions in a satisfactory manner (Dickson, et al., 2009).

One of the skills that this practitioner uses prominently is questioning. She begins the interaction with a question on whether she will be happy with the contents of the refrigerator. Questions serve multiple purposes, including the opening of discussions and obtaining information (Cegala & Lenzmeier Broz, 2002, p. 1010). In this case, the question enables the discussion on the content of the refrigerator as well as assessing the perception of the patient regarding their feeding habits. The fact that Jane confidently replies that Gillian will be happy with what she finds in there suggests she is comfortable with her current feeding habits. The practitioner also poses further questions, including enquiries on whether the family members experience headaches. Regardless, this element indicates a shortcoming in the choice of implementation of this skill. Practitioners must avoid using leading or closed questions as they often result in patient bias (Matusitz & Spear, 2014, p. 257). For instance, asking them if they experience headaches leaves the answer range within a limited scale as they are bound to have had headaches even though they could be unrelated to their feeding choices. As such, while the skill accomplishes its communication goals, its implementation may require improvement for effectiveness.

The practitioner also effectively provides information and explanations. Their use of demonstrations to explain the level of consumption by the family members and the sugar intake by Holly promises effectiveness. Verbal information may be insufficient to impact sufficiently upon the patient, which compels the additional use of illustrations (Dickson, et al., 2009). Nevertheless, the demonstration must remain relevant and bound to the time (Chant, et al., 2002, p. 15). Essentially, Gillian imparts upon Jane and Holy the effect of their eating habits including the absence of proper vegetables and the excess calories.

However, the practitioner demonstrates inadequate listening skills. In the first four minutes of her interaction she speaks more than Holly and Jane. Such behavioral aspects suggest a possibility of overwhelming the patient or missing some critical information (Dickson, et al., 2009). She may also limit the willingness of the patients to offer information for fear of judgment or response. Regardless, the use of empathy and reflecting back is prominent in this communication. The practitioner expresses both her feelings regarding the consumption habits of this family as well as some understanding regarding the choices that Jane has made. Proper use of reflective communication enables the extension of particular lines of discussion (Wright, et al., 2012), evidenced by the easy transition of the topics surrounding the eating habits and the formulation of solutions.

An integral component of communication, however, is the non-verbal communication. Health practitioners require being aware of the non-verbal communication of the patient as well as the communication they are also providing (Dickson, et al., 2009). As such, aspects such as maintaining eye contact and hand gestures will often influence the patient interactions. That the practitioner pauses to look at Holly and Jane when enquiring about their headaches communicates the importance of the question. Her facial expressions also support her bafflement regarding the choices of food Jane makes for her family and the effect it has had on Holly. As such, the choice non-verbal communication aspects of this practitioner are effective in improving the articulation of her intended goals.

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Models of Communication

Health communication is at the core of any health intervention. However, effectiveness is dependent on the understanding of human behavior (Ha & Longnecker, 2010). It is this understanding that forms the basis for communication models that may be applied within given contexts, such as the intervention for Jane’s family.

The Health Belief Model focuses on the attitudes and beliefs of individuals as predictors of health behavior. The model founds on the assumptions that people take health-related actions where they feel it is possible to avoid a negative health condition, they feel it is possible to avoid negative health conditions by taking particular recommended actions, and they believe they can successfully implement the recommended action (Corcoran, 2007, p. 15). Developing communication based on this model, therefore, would require Gillian to understand the perceptions of Jane and Holly regarding both their problems and interventions. These elements should include conversations on the severity of their obesity, as demonstrated in the video, and the perceptions of the barriers that could prevent better eating habits. For Holly, the latter could include the inclusion of the school diet in her food choices.

The Elaboration Likelihood model also makes reference to behavioral change among patients. The model assumes that attitudes guide behavior and persuasion is a primary source of attitudes (Corcoran, 2007). The persuasive impact differs in arguments with ample information in contrast to the impact of messages with simplistic explanations. Where elaboration is high, the patient experiences the central route of persuasion (Schiavo, 2013). In this case, elaboration manifests through the use of evaluation like in Holly’s weekly food summary presentation and inferential judgment as propagated by explanations on calorie consumption. As such, the health practitioner applies this model to ensure that the patient is motivated to process the information. The information is also provided in favorable settings, which create the ability to process. As long as the conditions for this communication are maintained, Holly and Jane have the capacity to develop new cognitions and attitudes towards a change in behavior.

Issues of Distress and Alternatives

The communication process in this interaction has particular points of conflicts and distress. For instance, by the practitioner emphasizing the responsibility that Jane has to provide healthy food for her family she causes the latter to feel at fault for their state of health. Despite assurances from her daughter that it is not her fault, Jane still remains distressed at the possibility that she may have ruined her daughter’s health and life. This occurrence suggests the need for an alternative approach to communication. Instead of emphasizing the responsibility, the health practitioner could instead focus on the ability of Jane to transform the habits of her child. Solution-focused communication could here avert distress and conflict, ensuring the information is transformative and avoiding time wasted on overcoming these instances of conflict (Chant, et al., 2002).

There is also evidence of further distress in the implementation of the dietary solutions. The perception by Holly is that the salad options are dry and boring, compared to her previous food choices. At first, it seems that the open choice communication may reflect negatively on the health practitioner. However, she introduces an alternative to the patient later. The most critical feature emerging in this later communication to handling distress is the presence of empathy in the verbal communication. She expresses understanding towards the difficulties that Jane is experiencing from having to work in the kitchen to feed her family, and promises improvement over time. The presence of empathy ensures that the patient gains the motivation to process information and contributes towards central persuasion (Corcoran, 2007, p. 23). As such, the choice communication approach that the health practitioner adopts later serves as a perfect alternative to solve the occurrence of conflict and distress from the interaction.

Effectiveness of Communication

The approach to communication that the health practitioner applies is largely effective. Based on the circumstances, the practitioner manages to convey information to the patients, which is the primary goal of this interaction. Jane and Holly are both shocked at the extent of their sugar consumption and the degree to which their lifestyle has perpetuated the behavior. There is also an element of realization when they are compelled to reflect and realize they do not consume vegetables at all. The effectiveness of communication depends on the achievement of the intended objectives, which leads to the conclusion of this communication having been successful in this regard (Matusitz & Spear, 2014).

Regardless, it is clear that some of the methods and skills may have limited effectiveness. There may be factors external to the patient that the practitioner missed due to their limited emphasis on listening. Overall, the tendency of the health practitioner to speak is higher than their listening to the patient. The aspect emerges prominently in the first moments of the interaction, which are essential to understanding the perceptions of the patient regarding their condition. Consequently, the degree of effectiveness is compromised by this feature.

Conclusion

It is clear that communication is an important feature in consultation and the development of patient interventions. Regardless, there is a strong need for health practitioners to develop suitable skills and learn methods that will ensure effective communication. Their strategies should enable patient persuasion and behavioral change, while also coping with the events of distress of conflict during the communication and interventions. Improvement in future interactions may enable easier and less time consuming development of solutions, while also allowing more comprehensiveness due to the multiplication of insight.

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  1. Berry, D., 2006. Health Communication: Theory And Practice: Theory and Practice. London: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
  2. Cegala, D. & Lenzmeier Broz, S., 2002. Physician communication skills training: a review of theoretical backgrounds, objectives and skills. Medical education, 36(11), pp. 1004-1016.
  3. Chant, S., Jenkinson, T. I. M., Randle, J. & Russell, G., 2002. Communication skills: some problems in nursing education and practice. Journal of clinical nursing, 11(1), pp. 12-21.
  4. Corcoran, N., 2007. Theories and models in communicating health messages. . In: N. Corcoran, ed. Communicating health: Strategies for health promotion. London: Sage, pp. 5-31.
  5. Dickson, D., Hargie, O. & Morrow, N. C., 2009. Communication Skills Training for Health Professionals. 3rd ed. s.l.:Nelson Thornes.
  6. Ha, J. & Longnecker, N., 2010. Doctor-patient communication: a review. The Ochsner Journal, 10(1), pp. 38-43.
  7. Maguire, P. & Pitceathly, C., 2002. Key communication skills and how to acquire them. Bmj, 325(7366), pp. 697-700.
  8. Matusitz, J. & Spear, J., 2014. Effective doctor–patient communication: an updated examination. Social work in public health, 29(3), pp. 252-266.
  9. Schiavo, R., 2013. Health communication: From theory to practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  10. Wright, K. B., Sparks, L. & O’hair, H. D., 2012. Health communication in the 21st century. London: John Wiley & Sons.
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