8 Types of Communication Barriers in Healthcare and How to Deal with Them

The communication gap in patient education is more than jargon barriers. It’s also about emotional barriers, perspective barriers, and other noises that need the patient education. Sometimes as a healthcare communication manager, it’s harder for you to recognize all since you have to deal with many things. However, before jumping right into a new patient education campaign, we want you to slow down and go back to 8 types of communication barriers in healthcare. Though most of them are basic communication knowledge, it gives you more perspective on the “gap” and brings new ideas for your next campaign. 

8 types of communication barriers in healthcare

1. Physical and environmental barriers

When you launch a healthcare event for patients, many physical and environmental factors limit patients from receiving the message.

  • Noise: The primary type that occurs during transmission level. Noise commonly happens when patients use telehealth services or watch healthcare shows on TV. Poor signal when talking via phone and watching TV may disrupt patients from consuming healthcare information.
  • Time and Distance: When our marketing lead shared her experience in one of her healthcare communication campaigns, she said, “the hardest part when conducting an offline healthcare event is to set location and time smartly.” Because we need to ensure as many patients as possible join the event. Also, we need to consider the time differences between the two countries.
  • Wrong choice of medium: Sometimes, healthcare knowledge is not the problem. The problem is how we approach and deliver this knowledge via the wrong channel. Not all patients have good imagination skills, so think how hard it can be when they read a full of text prescription without understanding how medicine impacts their body. In this situation, an animation with visualized information may help. In the below video, F.Learning uses visuals to explain different symptoms of migraines, so patients understand the root cause of their health issues. Also, we choose a viewpoint of patients’ daily lives so they can see the migraine from their social perspective. 
  • Message design: The most challenging part of communicating with patients is controlling how patients think about your message. Thus, ensure your message is under a strict proofreading process and avoid wrong word choices, jargon, and complex words.

2. Physical or biological barriers

How do you talk to Alzheimer’s patients? Talk slowly. If needed, educate their family members. How do you talk to patients with HIV  or disabilities? Share with them real-life stories. Emotional control is essential when educating patients with special physical health. There are a few nuances here. Sometimes you only need to change the communication format to fit the patient’s health issues.

For example, F.Learning changed text-based content into podcasts to serve the demands of audiences with poor eyesight. However, we must choose the proper perspective to show our sensitivity and empathy to audiences without offending them.

3. Language Barriers

What is a good start to educating patients effectively? The answer is choosing the right healthcare information. Removing language barriers is the priority before you want to remove any communication noises. At F.Learning, we have worked with many healthcare clients to realize that we just capture a tiny nuance of language barriers – the healthcare jargon. The language barriers in patient communication have 3 angles:

  • Misinterpretation of words: Cholesterol is bad, eating before bed causes overweight, cold weather causes a cold, etc. These healthcare myths are the significant consequences of misinterpretation. Different people mean different understandings while using the same word. We can’t blame patients because they are confused by various information resources. Using channels, tools, content format, and communication methods, we must set a firm context for your healthcare message. 
  • Medical jargon: Since most patients have a non-medical background, medical/ healthcare jargon will be a significant communication barrier. For example, patients don’t understand diagnosis results like what disease code G55.3 mean. In this case, a short explainer video will help, like the below video explaining Heparin and Warfarin. 
  • Multiple meanings of words in a different context: Have you ever searched for your symptom on Google? You are a healthcare communication manager, but sometimes a patient as well. We all share a common problem – Dr. Google, even a headache can turn into a brain tumor. A patient education campaign without a clear context causes different uses of different words per need/ message. That’s why you need a healthcare expert on your team to ensure accuracy. In 3/2021, F.Learning collaborated with Dr. Manish Chand to make a patient education video about colorectal cancer and rectal bleeding. This healthcare video is used in the “Colorectal Awareness Month” campaign so that his patients can understand their conditions’ treatment.

4. Personal barriers

Differences in personal and psychological makeup may create barriers between patients and other healthcare providers. They arise from the judgments, emotions, and social values of people. According to Ms. Fasiha Haq, Senior Director of Global Medical Affairs Strategy & Execution at Eli Lilly Canada, doctors and patients have different perspectives about healthcare when they visit each other.

Doctors focus on long-term treatment and root causes, while patients focus on day-to-day healthcare treatment and symptoms. The insight brings a lot of suggestions on how to create a healthcare message from the patient’s perspective. To do that, we need to understand how patients think about the disease. 

5. Emotional barriers

If you handle a patient education campaign for a sensitive sexual and reproductive health topic, you will find emotional barriers familiar. Another situation is when patients fear, are anxious, or even sad because the pain prevents them from doing things. In healthcare communication, it’s hard to realize because these moments fester beneath the surface. 

6. Socio-psychological barriers

There are 2 types of socio-psychological barriers in healthcare communication. To successfully break the socio-psychological barrier, It’s essential to define the patient persona with a complete description of behavior, characteristics, and background:

  • Selective perception: We often see selective perception in fitness or other preventative healthcare topics when patients hear based on their needs and motivations. For example, if you want to lose weight but hesitate to do a workout, you want to listen to a diet solution without exercising. 
  • Halo effect: Halo effect is when people distrust someone based on their experience, fear, etc. For example, a mom with experience in child care will be more skeptical when consuming healthcare information.

7. Cultural barriers

When talking about sexual health, people from Eastern countries will be more hesitant than Western countries. Patients from underdeveloped areas will be more skeptical about treatment than those from other areas. Culture is one of the factors that impact patients’ healthcare decision-making. Cultural barriers also mean different understandings among countries with the same symbol, color, etc. Therefore, communication managers need to research intensely locally to avoid controversial situations.

Here’s our patient education video F.Learning made for our client – iHeed. Since the target audience is patients from the Middle East, we use materials relevant to patients’ cultures to create a social context for them.

8. Channel flow barriers

Channel flow barriers relate to healthcare communication channel strategy because each channel has strengths and weaknesses. When launching a healthcare communication campaign, we can use more than one channel to promote your healthcare message. Using the wrong channel or using too many levels of media may cause misleading in delivering information. Therefore, we ensure that all supporting messages align with the main message to prevent patients from misunderstanding. 

How many barriers did you break down when educating patients? Contact F.Learning and let us know what you think!

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