Communication skills and error in the intensive care unit

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2007 Dec;13(6):732-6. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0b013e3282f1bb0e.


Purpose of review: Poor communication in critical care teams has been frequently shown as a contributing factor to adverse events. There is now a strong emphasis on identifying the communication skills that can contribute to, or protect against, preventable medical errors. This review considers communication research recently conducted in the intensive care unit and other acute domains.

Recent findings: Error studies in the intensive care unit have shown good communication to be crucial for ensuring patient safety. Interventions to improve communication in the intensive care unit have resulted in reduced reports of adverse events, and simulated emergency scenarios have shown effective communication to be correlated with improved technical performance. In other medical domains where communication is crucial for safety, the relationship between communication skills and error has been examined more closely, with highly detailed teamwork assessment tools being developed.

Summary: Critical care teams perform many activities where effective communication is crucial for ensuring patient safety and reducing susceptibility to error. To develop valid team training and assessment tools for improving teamwork in the intensive care unit there is a requirement to better understand and identify the specific communication skills important for safety during the provision of intensive care medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Critical Illness*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Safety*