Read back is critical for healthcare communication and safe teamwork

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Safe and effective healthcare is frustrated by failures in communication. We know that double checking drug names and doses and using checklists are huge boons to patient safety. Effective communication is important too.

Repeating back important information (read back) enhances the effectiveness of communication across many industries.

However, formal communication protocols are uncommon in healthcare teams.

In our study we quantified the effect of read back on the transfer of information between members of a healthcare team during a simulated clinical crisis.

To do this we gave post-anaesthesia care unit nurses and anaesthetic assistants clinically relevant items of information at the start of simulations. A clinical crisis was prompted so that participants called an anaesthetist, who had no prior knowledge of the patient.

We analysed video recordings of the simulations and found that anaesthetists who read back the information were eight times times more likely to know the information at the end of the scenario compared to times when they didn’t respond.

Anaesthetists who gave any response at all were still three times more likely to know the information compared with no verbal response.

This means that in a critical healthcare situation, if information is not read back, there is a good chance that communication has failed.

Training healthcare teams to use read-back techniques should increase information transfer between team members with the potential for improved patient safety.