Case study

Healthcare practitioner-patient communication in healthcare settings

Our insights from conversation analysis have significantly influenced interactions between doctors, clinicians, nurses, midwives and their patients within the NHS and beyond.

Black and white image of a younger pair of hands holding an elderly person's hands.

The issue

Effective communication is essential to a positive healthcare experience and is linked to a range of care outcomes.

The National Health Service (NHS) in Great Britain emphasises that skilled communication is key to ensuring that patients and their families can participate in health decisions about their own care.

We know at a general level that communication matters but the precise details of what counts as ‘effective’ or ‘skilled’ methods of communication are largely missing from NHS policies that endorse good communicative healthcare practices.

The research

The study of language and communication has been the focus of our research for over four decades. We have an international reputation for work in basic and applied conversation analysis, a distinguishing feature of which is conversation analytic studies of real-time interactions in healthcare settings.

Distinctively, we focus on delivering patient choice. Research externally funded by the NIHR on this theme includes the recently completed publications: 

These studies have analysed conversations and communications between healthcare practitioners, patients and their families to challenge methods of communication that currently inhibit patient choice. The findings have influenced new methods of communication that ensure patients feel involved with and in charge of their own care.  

The outcome

Our research into neurology clinics has shown that option-listing - providing a menu of options from which a patient might make a selection - is usually perceived by patients as an invitation to make a choice.

Our study discovered that option-listing is a relatively rare practice and that even when it is used, the way options are described can impact patients’ responses.

Our research on decision making during labour and birth in NHS midwifery units is building on this finding. We aim to identify the types of communication that contribute most effectively to shared decision-making between midwives, pregnant people and their birth partners during labour and birth. 

We intend to continue to contribute to evidence-based guidance for health practitioners and patients. We are also working with the Royal College of Midwives’ Progress Theatre Group to disseminate our findings to key stakeholders within the NHS and beyond.

Definitely the best study day I have attended for a very long time. It should be compulsory for every practising clinician … It has made me think very carefully about what I say and what patients really mean.

Anonymous feedback from previous workshop participant.
Sheffield, 2015
Featured researcher
Merran Toerien

Merran Toerien

Dr Toerian's primary research interest is the application of conversation analysis to the study of talk in institutional settings.

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Featured researcher
Clare Jackson

Clare Jackson

Dr Jackson has research interests in gender and sexuality, social psychology and conversation analysis.

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Featured researcher
Ellen Annandale

Ellen Annandale

Professor Annandale's main research interests lie in the sociology of health and illness and the sociology of gender and the connections between these two fields.

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Featured researcher
Sian Beynon-Jones

Sian Beynon-Jones

Dr Beynon-Jones's current research focuses on the forms of temporality that we live with and how available forms of ‘time’ are produced through technoscientific practices, and their regulation.

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