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Recognising the importance of informal communication events in improving collaborative care


Background While the concept of collaboration is highly touted in the literature, most descriptions of effective collaboration highlight formal collaborative events; largely ignored are the informal collaborative events and none focusing on the frequent, ‘seemingly’ by chance communication events that arise and their role in supporting patient safety and quality care.

Objective To identify the types of informal communication events that exist in the inpatient setting and better understand the barriers contributing to their necessity.

Methods We undertook a constructivist grounded theory study in an inpatient internal medicine teaching unit in Ontario, Canada. Interview and observational data were collected across two phases; in total, 56 participants were consented for the study. Data collection and analysis occurred iteratively; themes were identified using constant comparison methods.

Results Several types of informal communication events were identified and appeared valuable in three ways: (1) providing a better sense of a patient’s baseline function in comparison to their current function; (2) gaining a more holistic understanding of the patient’s needs; and (3) generating better insight into a patient’s wishes and goals of care. Participants identified a number of organisational and communication challenges leading to the need for informal communication events. These included: scheduling, competing demands and the spatial and temporal organisation of the ward. As a result, nursing staff, allied health professionals and caregivers had to develop strategies for interacting with the physician team.

Conclusion We highlight the importance of informal communication in supporting patient care and the gaps in the system contributing to their necessity. Changes at the system level are needed to ensure we are not leaving important collaborative opportunities to chance alone.

  • patient-centred care
  • teamwork
  • qualitative research
  • hospital medicine

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