Communication behaviours in a hospital setting: An observational study

Enrico Coiera*, Vanessa Tombs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

368 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: An exploratory study to identify patterns of communication behaviour among hospital based healthcare workers. Design: Non-participatory, qualitative observational study. Setting: British district general hospital. Subjects: Eight doctors and two nurses. Results: Communication behaviours resulted in an interruptive workplace, which seemed to contribute to inefficiency in work praactice. Medical staff generated twice as many interruptions via telephone and paging systems as they received. Hypothesised causes for this level of interruption include a bias by staff to interruptive communication methods, a tendency to seek information from colleagues in preference to printed materials, and poor provision of information in support of contacting individuals in specific roles. Staff were observed to infer the intention of messages based on insufficient information, and clinical teams demonstrated complex communication patterns, which could lead to inefficiency. Conclusion: The results suggest a number of improvements to processes or technologies. Staff may need instruction in appropriate use of communication facilities. Further, excessive emphasis on information technology may be misguided since much may be gained by supporting information exchange through communication technology. Voicemail and email with acknowledgment, mobile communication, improved support for role based contact, and message screening may be beneficial in the hospital environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)673-676
Number of pages4
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7132
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 1998
Externally publishedYes


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