Developing understandings of communication in end of life care

Cavaye, Joyce E. and Watts, Jacqueline H. (2010). Developing understandings of communication in end of life care. In: BSA Medical Sociology Group 2010 Annual Conference, 1-3 Sep 2010, Durham.


Communication is perceived by both educators and policymakers to be a core component of quality end of life care and is frequently referred to in recommendations as an area for improvement (DoH 2008). Communication emerged as a significant theme in a broader literature review of death education within nurse training. This paper focuses on the ways in which communication helps shape the care and illness experience of people with a terminal diagnosis. Findings suggest communication skills have a strong focus within professional programmes (Dickinson et al 2008). Missing from the literature, however, is recognition that spiritual embodiment is an important feature of non- verbal communication with this conveyed through empathetic connection and behaviours such as touch, being wholly present, giving time and the kindness of smile. The evidence suggests that communication training should be developed to take a more holistic view to incorporate both verbal and non-verbal elements. Furthermore, effective communication skills training needs to frame the patient as an individual within a whole life perspective. A stronger emphasis on values-based education that highlights the importance of empathetic sensitivity on the part of health professionals to develop the qualities of warmth, compassion and genuineness is proposed. These personal attributes of healthcare professionals are highly valued by patients receiving end of life care and contribute to the development of positive relationships between patients and health professionals (Johnston and Smith 2006). They also require ongoing attention and nurturing and cannot be assumed or taken for granted.

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