Healthy comms

Written records are a matter of life and death in Jules’ work.

In this article, Jules explains how vital written records are.

As I begin writing this, I’m asking myself what I can possibly contribute that would be of value to professional communicators. My job as a healthcare assistant on a busy surgical ward is a far cry from the high level communication roles that so many of you no doubt fill. And yet, communication is perhaps the most important area of my job. Effective, accurate communication, even at my lowly level, can literally mean the difference between life and death.

writing-formsBefore I started this job, I never imagined that the piece of equipment I’d use most often during a shift would be my pen!

What I’ve learnt over the last few months is that every verbal communication must be backed up with accurate written communication, and often repetitively. In short, unless something is written down, it simply doesn’t exist.

Every shift begins with handover. This involves being given sheets of paper with written details of every patient I’ll be caring for, including past history, recent history, current situation, and both long and short-term plans. All this information is then reinforced verbally as literally everything is read out loud. During this time I highlight key words and make additional notes reminding myself of specific tasks that must be done for each patient. This is all done confidentially, away from the patients.

Next comes the ward round, where several key points are reiterated in front of the patient, and the paperwork at the foot of each bed is checked to ensure it has been kept up-to-date. And it’s not like the tele where you see a neat little clipboard on the end of a bed; we’re talking mountains of paperwork. Each patient has their own small forest of files and notes and recordings and observations. Everything is checked and double-checked.

During the course of my shift, as I work through my tasks, I write everything down. There are forms for anything you could possibly imagine. And if I notice something about a patient and tell a nurse or doctor, I must write down that I’ve told them, then initial it and get it countersigned.

This all may sound a little extreme, but despite being of a lower grade than many of my colleagues, I spend more time with the patients than they do. I’m responsible for patients’ vital observations, and I’m the person most likely to notice any changes in their well-being. It’s not good enough to just ‘tell someone’ – unless I write down that I’ve told someone, then it didn’t happen.

At the end of a shift the handover process begins again for the arriving staff, and this cycle continues 24 hours a day. Often we’ll work a late shift, handover to the night staff, then return in the morning for an early shift with the same patients. Sometimes nothing much has changed, but it doesn’t matter, the handover process is still the same and everything is repeated once more.

So of what value is this to professional communicators? To reinforce the idea that in order to get a message across effectively, you need to reinforce it with history, context, reasoning, vision, and of course repetition. And that verbal communication, although faster and more efficient, stands for nothing when proof, evidence or assurance may be required further down the line.

Of course there are other areas of communication within my job, each with their own set of rules and reasons and protocols, but I shall leave those for another day. And please, don’t even get me started on our intranet! ;)

[ Jules ]

Photo credit: visibleducts

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Jules in witchy hat

By job definition I’m a healthcare worker, but I also like to call myself a writer. I love words; I love reading them and I love writing them. Writing is a beautiful craft that one never stops learning, so I read a great deal too. I enjoy writing for LifeSIGNS and for myself, and I feel honoured and privileged to be writing for Kilobox amid such professional people.

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