Effective communication

3. Ineffective communication matters

Worryingly, “…a map of the communications within a particular profession….will soon reveal how limited is the extent of what is taught in formal education. There is even suspicion that some communication capabilities are worsened rather than improved by the process of professionalisation.”

Michael Eraut (1994)

A lack of communication, or poor communication, are often directly linked to poorer outcomes in healthcare. It is clear that involving patients in decisions, keeping patients informed, improving communication with patients, and eliciting feedback from patients and listening to their views, will all improve communication. All of these points equally apply to the context of Covid-19 in our communications with our patients and other staff. In healthcare, communication failure can lead to serious and costly consequences 2. Approx. one third of the 23,000 cases analysed involved a communication breakdown somewhere along the healthcare spectrum3 . Medical error has been identified as the third leading cause of death in the US, with most causes of death arising from the ‘preventable arms’ due to defects in "Human Factors", "Leadership", and "Communication"4 5 .

In medical imaging, more complaints by parents relate to issues of professionalism and communication rather than technical errors. Effective communication has been shown to have multiple positive outcomes including:

  • better patient outcomes
  • decreased costs
  • increased patient and family satisfaction
  • decreased chance of litigation in adverse events

In their survey of 41 national radiology societies, the Audit and Standards Subcommittee of the European Society of Radiology identified patient communication as a key issue in radiology, and for radiologists, across Europe 6.Issues identified included that 15% of radiologists routinely receive communication training and 63.7% rarely or never receive training on communication.“Time” and “referring doctors preferred to discuss the examination with the patient” were also cited as issues.Much that goes wrong in radiology does so because of poor communication. Good communication ensures better and safer outcomes for patients and a more satisfactory working environment for staff. Similar issues were identified for radiographers by the European Federation of Radiographer Societies in their work to map patient safety activities across curricula 7. Of some concern, “error reporting and analysis” was only taught to an introductory level in 37.5% of programs; “patient identification” to an advanced level in just 65.5% of programs; and “communication skills” in just 53.1%.


Effective communication and team-working are extremely important skills for all radiographers / radiological technologists and are identified as such in many published scopes of practice for our profession. Both can be developed over time.