Seminar Explores Practical Approaches to Communication in Health Care

The seminar on Practical Approaches to Communication in Health Care in sub-Saharan Africa hosted by the South African Association of Health Educationalists (SAAHE) in collaboration with UKZN’s Department of Family Medicine featured key local and international experts.

Communication is central to health care provision, but is often dismissed as a “soft” skill and does not receive sufficient attention. This notion was challenged by the speakers who presented a wide range of perspectives and work around communication.

Professor Neil Prose from Duke University, USA, reflected on a number of projects that trained health care professionals in cross cultural communication. He shared his experience of strengthening respectful maternal care in Ethiopia and demonstrated the profoundly damaging effects of poor communication with patients. Skillful communication that acknowledges the patient’s context and perspectives is critical in achieving good health outcomes.

Dr Jenny Watermeyer, from the communication unit at the University of Witwatersrand shared her research on the use of translators or interpreters in the clinical setting. She noted that their role is often undervalued and unappreciated. Her study demonstrated the mediating and brokering role that translators play.

Both speakers emphasised that language is a key component in how health professionals engage with or distance themselves in communicating with patients. While good language skills are advantageous, the broader dimensions of communication are vital for quality consultations.

Professor Hassan Kaya, Director of the DSI / NRF Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Knowledge Systems, spoke on the cultural dimensions of communication and the influence of cosmologies on the interaction between a patient and the health care professional. A lack of sensitivity to different cultural understandings of health and illness can impact negatively on communication and how illness, diagnoses or treatment is understood. Cultural humility and acknowledgement are key in developing common ground.

Seminar co-ordinators, Drs Veena Singaram and Bernhard Gaede said the seminar aimed to promote discussion and explore some of the aspects further. They added that it reaffirmed the need to incorporate both language learning and communication skills more centrally in the curriculum of health professions programmes.

The seminar formed part of growing momentum towards forming a Special Interest Group focusing on communication in health professional education.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied