Researchers at Deakin University’s Centre for Organisational Change in Person-Centred Healthcare (OCPH) are driving a cultural shift towards person-centred care throughout Australia’s healthcare system.

The centre partners with health organisations across Australia to upskill clinical and non-clinical staff in communicating with patients and their families, says Institute for Health Transformation (IHT) member and director of the centre, Professor Peter Martin.

‘OCPH brings together like-minded researchers and educators to partner with health organisations and provide communications skills training to both clinical and non-clinical staff working in the health system,’ he says.

According to Prof. Martin, by equipping clinical and non-clinical healthcare staff with communication skills, monologues rife with diagnoses and treatment regimens delivered by clinicians are transformed into conversations between clinicians and patients that take into consideration the patient’s circumstances, goals, needs and literacy.

Furthermore, communication skills are particularly important in ensuring patient safety, Prof. Martin says.

‘In healthcare there are things that need to happen quickly. Clinicians often have limited time to gather the right information to make a diagnosis, and they need to provide patients with complex information in a way that empowers them and their families to make an informed choice,’ he says.

‘If the patient doesn’t understand what’s going on, they may be less likely to disclose accurate information or adhere to the recommended treatment.’

Person-centred care emphasises the role of non-clinical staff in a person’s care according to the centre’s deputy director, Meg Chiswell.

‘It is also important to acknowledge that patients may disclose important things that may influence their care to non-clinical staff, and these team members need to have the skills to respond to these disclosures, and facilitate support or referral to the healthcare team,’ she says.

The need for clinical and non-clinical staff to have well-developed communications skills has been highlighted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chiswell says.

‘All of a sudden, most consults were by telephone or people had masks on and clinicians couldn’t see their face; clinicians and healthcare staff couldn’t as readily notice the emotion on someone’s face or other indications that they may not understand or feel comfortable with the information they were given,’ she says.

The inclusion of non-clinical healthcare staff in OCPH’s communications skills training is essential to ensuring healthcare remains person-centred as they navigate Australia’s health systems, says Prof. Martin.

‘To have a high-performing organisation, there can’t be any chinks in the armour; you require everybody to be at their best. One of those elements is how clinicians talk to patients, but the other element is how clinicians talk to each other and the other staff around them,’ he says.

‘Clinicians are trying their best, but if they don’t know the more efficient or effective ways to provide complex information, then they’re being set up to fail.’

The next OCPH Healthcare Communication Residential Masterclass will be held in the Hunter Valley from 25 to 28 October 2022. Find out more on EventBrite.