CLEAR Communication.

by Erica L. Pauda, photos by Trace Thomas and Riannon Rowley

Working toward communicating better with patients is something that Dr. Lynn Sweeney, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island, strives to instill within her employees.

“We decided to come up with the idea of a communications training program,” Sweeney said. “It was our chair’s idea, Dr. Brian Zinc, to collaborate with Texas Tech.”

Coy Callison, Ph.D.
Coy Callison, Ph.D.

The project started when Kevin Stoker, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty affairs in Texas Tech’s College of Mass Communications, just happened to be flying on an airplane discussing his profession with a Rhode Island researcher sitting next to him. As a result, Texas Tech University, as well as four researchers in the mass communications college, were asked to help sustain a communication training program among doctors, nurses and patients at Anderson Rhode Island Hospital.

Coy Callison, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate studies in mass communications at Texas Tech, is one of the main researchers helping to create Project CLEAR.

Communication in everyday life can be a tad different while working in a hospital.

"At times, physicians may get so focused on providing the actual, tactical service, that they overlook the communication portion of it," Callison said. "Project CLEAR is simply a means of reminding physicians that there are two sides of that coin. There’s the tactical part of providing care, and there’s also the part about communicating how this care is going to solve problems."

The training program was developed by Dr. Brian Zinc, chief of emergency medicine, Sweeney, and Adam Rojeck, R.N., and nurse educator. The purpose of bringing in the Texas Tech researchers were to find better ways to keep the communication instilled in hospital employees, so that good communication is not something they have to think about. They will just communicate better.

“Better communication leads to better results,” says Callison.

Trent Seltzer, Ph.D.
Trent Seltzer, Ph.D.

Trent Seltzer, Ph.D., public relations department chairperson in mass communications at Texas Tech, was brought into the project because of his public relations background.

“This had an internal PR component to it,” Seltzer said. “I was interested in getting more involved. That’s what initially attracted me to the project was having some ability to contribute.”

The mass communications team’s part in the training was to teach the employees how to apply their communication skills in practice.

“The patient will be clear as to what their plan of care is,” Seltzer says.

Sweeney came up with training classes in ways of teaching employees different ways of communicating.

“She’s the one who designed the actual training the nurses, doctors, and residents go through,” Seltzer said. “The training focuses on increasing the effectiveness of communication between doctors and nurses.”

Liz Gardner, Ph.D., Texas Tech assistant professor of public relations, helped come up with different ways to help employees remember what to say.

Liz Gardner, Ph.D.
Liz Gardner, Ph.D.

“I’m very much interested in communication with healthcare providers, not just with individuals who are looking for health information,” she said.

She said that different ways exist to sustain the program after training. One way could just be an occasional e-mail telling employees that they are doing a good job, or employees could have a click message pen to remind them of things to say. Employees will have ways to remember what to say.

“Every employee has reminders of what they learned in training attached to their chest,” Gardner said. “If they need a reminder, all they have to do is look down and read.”

The messages might tell the doctor or physician to ask patients if they are OK with what they have just said, or the message also could tell them how their body language should be. The message may even give them certain sentences to say when showing grief to patients, whatever health care issues they are experiencing.

The project needed a combination of branding, which is how Shannon Bichard, Ph.D., professor in advertising, came into play.

The program is all about clarity: Not just with better relationships, but clear communication among the groups.

“Doctors and nurses were not communicating,” Bichard said.

Shannon Bichard, Ph.D.
Shannon Bichard, Ph.D.

As she was at the hospital, she saw that apparently the communication needed to be more focused among the staff members.

Bichard’s job was to focus branding efforts on the information to the employees. She would refresh their memories with doing activities, as well as with interacting with an attending physician.

“Give people recognition if they notice someone else being clear,” Bichard said.

Being that the project is only one year in progress, the results have been quite successful. Each researcher believes that the project was more successful because of the research done before addressing the training.

At this point, the research team still is working to sustain the project.

“We will be involved for the next couple of years,” Callison said.

Researchers in the College of Mass Communications will continue to head in the positive direction as they will collect more data and monitor the program’s progress.

“It becomes a way that you do communication,” Callison said. mc

Erica L. Pauda is a senior journalism major from Lubbock, Texas.
Trace Thomas is a May 2012 public relations graduate from Levelland, Texas.
Riannon Rowley is a senior electronic media & communications major from El Paso, Texas.

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