Improving verbal communication in critical care medicine

J Crit Care. 2011 Apr;26(2):155-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2011.03.004.


Human errors are the most common reason for planes to crash, and of all human errors, suboptimal communication is the number 1 issue. Mounting evidence suggests the same for errors during short-term medical care. Strong verbal communication skills are key whether for establishing a shared mental model, coordinating tasks, centralizing the flow of information, or stabilizing emotions. However, in contrast to aerospace, most medical curricula rarely address communication norms during impending crises. Therefore, this article offers practical strategies borrowed from aviation and applied to critical care medicine. These crisis communication strategies include "flying by voice," the need to combat "mitigating language," the uses of "graded assertiveness" and "5-step advocacy," and the potential role of Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation communication. We also outline the "step-back method," the concept of communication "below ten thousand feet," the impetus behind "closed-loop communication," and the closely related "repeat-back method." The goal is for critical care practitioners to develop a "verbal dexterity" to match their procedural dexterity and factual expertise.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Critical Care / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Organizational Culture
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*