Last week I chaired a public policy event about child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). It was a chance for professionals involved in working with children, young people and their families to come together, hear from speakers and learn from each other. Attendees came from a range of disciplines within the field and all shared a desire to improve the lives and support of these young people and their families. It was a fascinating and humbling day.
Over the last few years I have worked with a number of hospices and end of life care organisations. I have had the privilege to meet and talk with many people who work within these organisations, in the vast range of roles needed to run them: nurses, OTs, healthcare assistants, fundraisers, finance staff, shop managers, volunteers, gardeners, facilities managers and many more. As with the policy event attendees, they all shared a desire to support people and their families at an incredibly difficult time. Again, a very humbling experience for me.
Providing CAMHS to vulnerable young people and end of life care to patients are both complex undertakings. There are a whole host of systems, funding (or lack of) and individual needs and wants to be taken into consideration. There are many professionals whose expertise is needed at different times and in different ways. There are policy decisions beyond their control and often difficult choices to be made. It is no wonder there are no easy answers to giving vulnerable people the help they need and deserve, whatever that might look like in their own circumstances.
One of the things that is consistently cited as needing improvement in complex situations like these – and which came up at both the CAMHS event and in my work with hospices – is communication. It is no surprise that, with so many people involved and so many (often conflicting) requirements and agendas in place, communication gets both tricky and ever-more important. Without good communication in place, misunderstandings grow, conflicts arise, mistakes happen, duplication or omissions occur and, ultimately, the patient or young person can be left feeling disempowered and even more isolated. This is a negative situation for everyone.
So what can be done?
As I’ve said, these are complex situations without easy answers. However, I believe it is possible to make improvements to the way that communication is facilitated and incorporated into the systems and processes that take place.
Firstly, it is important to put the patient or young person at the centre of your efforts to improve communications – how will better communication make a difference to them? What do they need? How involved do they want to be? If you can be clear on and make use of these points, they will feel empowered and more positive about their care, without the knock-on impacts to their wellbeing.
Secondly, you need to consider all the other stakeholders in communication – families, health professionals, trustee boards, funders, schools and local authorities, to name just some. They will all have different needs, motivations and perspectives, which will impact on how they listen and communicate. Meeting all these will be incredibly difficult, so you will need to find a balance and the common thread wherever possible.
Thirdly, the content of all communication must be relevant and easily accessible. Keeping messages simple is not the same as ‘dumbing down’. It is about sticking to one point at a time, not overloading people with information – especially at a time when they are vulnerable and confused – and demonstrating why it matters. These kinds of messages will be more memorable and make more of a difference than something overly-complicated.
In short, of course, I am saying that communication needs to be thought about and planned. Effective communication should be included within systems and processes from the start, not added as an after-thought. In this way, communicating well becomes part of the way that things are done, not an added (optional) extra.
If you need help with improving communication at your hospice or in your service, please get in touch for an initial chat.
Until next time