Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations

Int J Clin Pract. 2015 Nov;69(11):1257-67. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.12686. Epub 2015 Jul 6.


Objectives: Effective and efficient communication is crucial in healthcare. Written communication remains the most prevalent form of communication between specialised and primary care. We aimed at reviewing the literature on the quality of written communication, the impact of communication inefficiencies and recommendations to improve written communication in healthcare.

Design: Narrative literature review.

Methods: A search was carried out on the databases PubMed, Web of Science and The Cochrane Library by means of the (MeSH)terms 'communication', 'primary health care', 'correspondence', 'patient safety', 'patient handoff' and 'continuity of patient care'. Reviewers screened 4609 records and 462 full texts were checked according following inclusion criteria: (1) publication between January 1985 and March 2014, (2) availability as full text in English, (3) categorisation as original research, reviews, meta-analyses or letters to the editor.

Results: A total of 69 articles were included in this review. It was found that poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes: discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction and inefficient use of valuable resources, both in unnecessary investigations and physician worktime as well as economic consequences.

Conclusion: There is room for improvement of both content and timeliness of written communication. The delineation of ownership of the communication process should be clear. Peer review, process indicators and follow-up tools are required to measure the impact of quality improvement initiatives. Communication between caregivers should feature more prominently in graduate and postgraduate training, to become engraved as an essential skill and quality characteristic of each caregiver.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Patient Safety
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Professional Competence / standards